Monday, December 31, 2012

X-mas/Yule

I was very kindly asked to give the Christmas meditation at my home church in Tillamook, Oregon when I was back there visiting on the Sunday before Christmas.  It was so much fun to write with them in mind that I thought I would share it with the rest of you.

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Sermon Text: The Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55, NIV)
46 And Mary said,“My soul magnifies the Lord,
47and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for men
and holy is his name.
50 His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

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Several years ago, I was teaching an ESL class in a seniors’ housing project devoted mostly to late-in-life immigrants to Canada.  Because it was our last class before Christmas break, we spent most of it reading the Christmas story in a very basic English version, which we try to do in our church-based ESL classes.  When we got to the part where there was no room in the inn, we read how Mary and Joseph had to stay in the stable with the animals when it was time for Mary to give birth.  And I asked my students, "What do we learn about Mary and Joseph from this part of the story?"

Silence.  I looked around, and everyone was staring at the book, reading the words over again.  Finally Siham, one of my Iraqi students spoke up.  “They were poor.”   Siham and her friend Suuad were two of the the three Christians in our class.  In Iraq they had been part of the small Christian minority there, and had come to Canada as refugees while Saddam Hussein was still in power.

“If Jesus was God’s Son,” I asked Siham, “Why was He born to poor parents?”

Siham thought for a few seconds, gathered her thoughts in English before answering, 

“Because God loves the poor people.” 

Suuad, missing five teeth, nodded and smiled next to Siham in agreement.

Because God loves the poor people.  God loves poor people.  Or as Mary sang a few months before the birth of Christ in the passage I read earlier “[God] has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and has lifted up the lowly; He has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.”

It’s these two verses that have stuck out to me most as I’ve reflected on this passage.  They have echoed in my mind as I’ve read and reread the stories of Christ’s birth in the Gospels of Luke and Matthew.  Even in my personal devotional reading, the verses echoed again when I came across Psalm 138:6: “For though the Lord is high, he regards the lowly; but the haughty he perceives from far away.” 

Here in Luke 1:46-55, having heard that she was going to conceive and give birth to Jesus, Mary sings again the ancient truth after meeting with Elizabeth and rejoicing with her that she, Mary, had been overshadowed by the Holy Spirit and was going to give birth to Jesus. God had looked with favor on her!  The lowliest servant!  And God had and (in the Greek grammar) would continue to bring the powerful down from their thrones and lift up the lowly, now and in the future!  

Without that promise, Joseph and Mary shouldn’t have gotten the job.  I mean, if God was looking for parent-protectors for His infant Son, you would think He would pick people who had some power in this world over the evil forces at work.   But what power did Mary & Joseph have?  They were a couple of rural people in a remote corner of the world, their country occupied by the massively powerful Roman empire.  When the census was ordered by Caesar Augustus, they had to leave and go to Bethlehem.  And when they arrived, they could’t even get a room in the inn.  We know this, we sing about it, but think what that says about their power in this wide world that they couldn't, for love or money, get a proper room for Mary’s labor and delivery.   

For some of our brothers and sisters around the world, this is still a reality.  As some of you know, when I was in college I did a semester-long study abroad program in Israel.  That’s where I met my husband: I can recommend it as a good place to do that. :)  While I was there I took a class on Ancient Egyptian history, and as part of that class went on a field trip to Egypt for a week to see the pyramids and other ancient sites.  On our last day in Egypt, my classmates and I went to Cairo to visit a museum that was having an exhibit of Tutankhamen’s tomb.  Before going to the exhibit, we were allowed to go and have lunch at any of the restaurants nearby.

Lunch was fine and straightforward, but on the way back my friend Laura managed to slice her foot open on a piece of broken concrete.  Immediately, as you can imagine, there was blood.  Lots of blood.  Our professor wasn’t with us, but we did have an Egyptian security guard assigned to us named Muhammed.  He spoke very little English, but he took stock of the situation and directed us to a nearby pharmacy.  The pharmacist gave us some gauze, conferenced with Muhammed, and decided Laura needed to go to the hospital.  So Muhammed hailed a cab, and the driver took us straight to the closest hospital.  When we got inside, we saw that there were many people waiting to be seen, including people who were so unwell they were on stretchers waiting in the hallways.  

We had just started to take all of this in when Muhammed went to the nurse-in-charge, spoke maybe two sentences, and we were immediately taken in, past the people on stretchers, past the other waiting Egyptian patients.  Laura got her stitches, we paid like $14.00, and that was it. Muhammed took us back to the museum where we were reunited with our classmates and professor.

At the time, I thought the reason we were seen so quickly was because God was just watching out for us.  And, to be sure, I believe that God does watch out for His children.  But looking back, 13 years later, I realize with some discomfort that the reason we were treated quickly when so many were waiting was because we were rich American tourists.  Also, Muhammed had an Uzi.  Did I mention that?  A weapon strapped to his side which he showed the nurses just before they let us in.  

Power and wealth were what got us our quick care.  Power and wealth, or simply the perception of power and wealth, go a long way in this world. 

Mary and Joseph didn’t have that kind of power.  They didn’t have wealth.  They had no influence with which to remain safely in Nazareth against Caesar’s orders; they could not impress their way into a decent room for labour once they arrived in Bethlehem.  

When Mary sang her song months before the birth of Christ and named herself as a humble servant, she wasn’t being cute or self-deprecating.  She was being honest about her position and her people’s position in the world.  They were lowly, often hungry, humble, not just in attitude but in actual circumstances.The fact that the child in Mary’s womb was the King of Kings and Lord of Lords made no difference to those at the inn in Bethlehem.  They were, as Seham saw so clearly, poor.  Mary gave birth in a stable and Christ was swaddled and put to bed in a manger, in a feeding trough.  If Jesus had been born to a king and queen, or simply to rich American tourists, surely they could have demanded and received a better start for the Son of God.

And yet, God chose Mary & Joseph.  He lifted up these two lowly Galilean peasants for His own good purposes, honoring them above all others to be parents of the Son of God.  All that they needed to do, and what they were willing to do, was love and care for the lowly, newborn child given to them.  

Lowly.  It is not only His parents but Christ Himself who is lowly in this story.  We didn’t get a ready-to-go, strong adult version of a Saviour dropped in Bethlehem, ready to get to the cross the minute he touched earth.  Instead Christ was conceived by the Holy Spirit in a real woman’s womb, born of a real human mother, and began his life on earth not as a powerful man from heaven but as a newborn baby in swaddling clothes. Newborns, as mothers and fathers know, are about the most pathetic creature you will ever see.  They can do nothing for themselves except breathe, and not even that sometimes. They can’t feed themselves, can’t walk, can’t change themselves when they get dirty, can’t even put themselves to sleep.

Christ began His life on earth needing people to care for Him.  Astounding.  Unbelievable.  Joseph and Mary were privileged with the extraordinary and ordinary tasks of loving their baby boy.  In beginning His life this way, Jesus laid the most improbably, unexpected foundation for His kingdom of love.  He was, truly, love came down, but He began not by giving love from a distant position of power, but by receiving it from a real-life position of weakness and poverty.  To accomplish what concerns the salvation of humankind, God is not afraid of weakness.  He is not afraid to depend on us.

And if Christ begins, at His birth, not by giving but by receiving love, than I think it’s appropriate at Christmas to remember that we too are invited not only to receive the love of Christ but to love Him, taking some cues from the first ones entrusted with the task: Mary & Joseph. We can’t time-travel back to the manger, and wrap the baby Jesus in swaddling clothes, nor time-travel back to the cross and offer Jesus something to drink.  But in Matthew 25:34-40, the grown-up, near-the-cross Jesus tells us how, speaking prophetically as if from the future to the present:

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ 37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ 40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ 
We love Christ in our hearts, with our worship, with our songs, with our obedience. But we also, according to Christ Himself, love and care for Jesus through the concrete acts of love for others, through the meeting of basic needs and interceding in points of weakness.  These are the ways that Christ tells us we care for Him now.  If we take Him seriously in his words in Matthew 25, Christ is HERE; not just in His Holy Spirit, but in the very weakness and universal needs of humanity.  

This is something that, when we’re on the receiving end, we know to be true.  In times of weakness, of mourning, of difficulty, when we lack what we need--it is concrete expressions of love that mean the most to us.  The meals prepared after we’ve given birth or lost someone we love.  The visits when we are sick in hospital.  The welcome and hospitality when we are strangers in a new place.  The financial gifts that come when we are strapped for cash and God comes through for us through someone else’s concern.  God does something good in those acts of love, both for those who give and those who receive.

As we worship Christ this Christmas season-as we sing the songs and read the stories of his birth, the manger, the shepherds, the angels--may Christ give us eyes to see Him in His more distressing disguises.  As we celebrate His birth, may we not only receive His love afresh and anew, but love others afresh and anew by the power of His Spirit at work within us.  And in so doing we, like Mary and Joseph, will be loving Jesus Himself.  Amen.

Veritaserum

Warning:  there is no way on God's green earth I will not offend someone in this post.  But the topic is offensive, so...this is the best I can do.  Consider it what happens when I take a Potion of Truth and start talking about guns. The Newtown tragedy was like my Veritaserum.
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A few years ago, after receiving several calls at our church from women seeking abortions, I went on an internet search to find out why the mistake kept being made.  Turns out there was only a one-digit difference between the church's number and that of one of the main abortion clinics in our city.  So women were mistakenly calling us, instead of the clinic, to try and schedule their appointments.

Lord have mercy.

Before coming to this conclusion, my online search had led me to a document written by an abortion-rights activist who was challenging the legitimacy of the Supreme Court hearings related to the partial-birth abortion ban that was passed several years ago.  And after relating the horrifying eye-witness testimony given by abortion practitioners as to what happened to babies whose lives are ended in this way, the activist said that what was really horrifying was that a woman's right to choose was being threatened.

And I thought, "No sir.  No.  An unborn baby's skull being pierced and the brain sucked out so that it can be removed from it's mother's womb is far more horrifying."

That brief encounter with the radical element of the pro-choice movement came to my mind unbidden and often over the last week, in the wake of the shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.  My Facebook, Twitter and phone conversations were dominated by those arguing back and forth over the relationship between gun ownership/accessibility and the bodies of twenty kids and six adults lying dead in a school in Connecticut.  As I watched the predictable "Guns don't kill people, people kill people" arguments come in, something broke inside of me.  I don't expect it to be put back together, and I don't want it to be.

We have hit the wall, folks.  The wall at the end of a largely unchallenged 200-year-old path of Second Amendment worship. Erika Christakis has argued this well already, but it bears repeating: the fact of a right, even a constitutional one or Supreme Court-approved one, does not negate the potential (or dire need) for modifications of or limitations to that right.  Whether it's the right to free speech or the right to an abortion or the right to bear arms, there are times when we are confronted with the necessary limits to those (notably problematic and divisive) rights.  This is one of those times.

Approximately 30,000 people die every year from gun violence: men, women, children in the United States.  The Sandy Hook tragedy was merely the latest impetus for which to shine the spotlight on what we have problematically accepted as normal.  Shouldn't everything be on the table at this point?  Every possibility considered in decreasing this number and preventing a Sandy Hook tragedy from happening again?  Every study and statistic and idea brought out and looked at to find a way to make things better?  Guns will not be taken away completely; there is too much power and history and rootedness in gun culture for that to happen. But changes have to be made.  And if some change is needed, why not to the availability of weapons, without which those children and teachers would not have died.

(You can argue till your blue in the face that the killer would have found another way, another weapon,  but let's be clear:  those children and teachers were mowed down by bad-arse guns.  Guns to which he had easy access.  And neither he, nor his gun-owning mother had a criminal record, so this whole "laws only hurt law-abiding citizens, they don't stop criminals" is just ridiculous.  People aren't born criminals.  They become them.  Sometimes with very little warning, even to themselves.)

Specific modifications to gun laws have been suggested by pro-gun senators, gun owners, in noticeable distinction to the other mass shootings of the year.  The President has, thank goodness, appointed his Happy Warrior (VP Joe Biden) to head up a task force on future gun control endeavours.

Would gun-control be the end-all, be-all solution, the single preventative measure by which more tragedies would be prevented?  Of course not.   Should other factors be examined too, other societal ills better-treated?  Of course.  Voices from every spectrum of society have chimed in to remind us of our need to do more, from mothers of mentally ill children to  male-violence researchers, to undervalued, underpaid teachers.  To them we must listen with extra attention.

But I'm emphasizing the need for changes in the gun control laws.  Perhaps because I am shocked by the insistence that, even now, it is not necessary.  The idea that the right to bear arms is sacrosanct has turned to nonsense for me in the face of the dead children and their teachers.  I no longer understand it.  I no longer accept it.  

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Unspeakable

In the last few years I've first heard of several important news stories via friends on Facebook.  So when I saw the headline for the Newtown shootings in my news feed last Friday, I naively clicked on the link assuming it would be just another piece of news.

Which, of course, it wasn't.  It was an all-day bit of earth-shattering.

I clicked, I read, and the room seemed to spin.

Two minutes in, I started crying, though I'm not a real big crier.

And when they announced that a whole classroom of children was unaccounted for, my crying turned to weeping.  The groaning, sloppy kind of tears against which this world has no power.

All those kids.  All those parents.  Lord have mercy.

After a long time of weeping (minutes? hours?) my body began to protest.  My injured back, which had been healing, ached anew as the tension cascaded from my head to my neck, shoulders, and down.  My head started pounding.  I got physically sick to my stomach.

And I did what many parents did all across North America.  I fought the urge to go pick up my kids from school.  Even though I wasn't in Newtown.  Or Connecticut.  Or even the United States.  I could picture my boys, and my little Finn especially, right there with those other children, lying dead on a classroom floor.  Over and over, the image replayed.  Over and over I had to tell myself he wasn't there.

I didn't go.  Instead, I kept my toddler close to me, putting puzzles together while we listened to the news.  Finally, when I knew I would go mad if I listened any more, I took Ephraim to the library and the store.  We came back for an hour of cleaning and more news-watching before I picked up the boys from school.

I aged ten years in that hour, waiting to see my sons' faces.

Just before we left to pick up his brothers, my littlest son threw a fit.  He does that.  Normally I just wait until he gets it together, but that day I couldn't stand the thought of being late.  So I insisted.  He cried. And finally we hurried our way to the school.

When I saw my little Finn, I ran to him.  Hugged him.  Pulled out the lollipop I had brought for him, which I never do, gave it to him and hugged him again.

"What's that for?" he asked with a smile.

"I just love you," I replied.

I went to get Isaac then, the same hugging and lollipop-giving.  Normally I let him stay and play with his friends, but that day I made him stick close to me.

I knew that it would soon change.  That things would go back to normal.  And, at the same time, that things will never go back to normal.

It was like we all lost our children that day.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Subculture

"Do Western Christians take the necessary advantage of their freedom?  One is forced to the conclusion that they do not.  Religion has become something in the nature of a vestigial custom, instances of which one finds in the followers of various nations. Perhaps some pressure is needed if Christianity is to be reborn.
-Czeslaw Milosz, "The Captured Mind" 
(written as an in-exile observer in 1953, 
after fleeing Communist Poland for the West).
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I will tell you when it happened: the moment I realized how disconnected my children are from the American evangelical subculture in which I was raised.

My oldest son and I were sitting at the kitchen table as he finished his homework. I had just unplugged from Facebook, where the post-U.S. election results were stirring the anti-Obama pot at which some of my friends like to sup.

Obama isn't American.  Obama is a socialist.  Obama isn't really a Christian.  Obama is a Muslim.

Blechh.

Earlier that day, I had comment-explained to one friend why I accept Obama's Christian faith as real.  And out of curiosity, asked my son if he knew that President Obama is a Christian.

He didn't even answer, just responded with wide-eyes and a question of his own:

"He is?"

"Yes, he is."

"I didn't know that!"

"Well, it's true."

Pause.

"Isaac, why did you not think President Obama is a Christian?"

"I don't know."

"Did you know that [Prime Minister] Stephen Harper is a Christian?"

"No!"

"Did you know that Queen Elizabeth is a Christian?"

"No!"

We looked at each other for a minute, Isaac trying to gauge if I was telling a joke and I trying to gauge how we had come to this place of non-information.

"Does it surprise you that they're Christian?"

"Yes."

"Why?"

Pause.

"I didn't know Christians could be powerful and stuff."

....

A debriefing followed, for both of us.  We talked about the reality of Christians-in-power that I take for granted and he never dreamed possible. The more we talked, the more apparent it became that the idea of Christianity being inconsistent with power stems from Isaac's experience as a child in post-Christian Canada; as a boy who (to his knowledge and mine) is the only Christian in his class.  Finnian joined us mid-conversation and realised he could name 2-3 Christian friends in his class, and that was a comfort to him.

And, I confess, to me.  That my oldest son feels alone in his faith is very hard for me.  That his faith is a matter of embarrassment is painful.  The minor harassment he's received at times for believing in God is its own beast, but it's the larger silence on the subject of faith that has been most affective.  Something can't be important if no one talks about it, right?

Lest you wonder...we do talk about our faith.  At home, at church, when we're out and about and it's relevant.  But like any normal boy or girl, it's peer conversation that is most important to my Isaac.

After the boys were in bed that night, Matt and I talked about raising our kids outside the strongholds of the evangelical subculture.  What's good about it, what's bad.  There are things we miss from our old world:  the pleasure and ease of commonality; the shared cultural expectations and mores that reduce confusion and relational distance; the oft-concurring political beliefs (okay, that I don't miss); the conversations that can go deeper because of the foundation of shared experience and assumptions; the relationships that are easier to navigate because you aren't working so hard to figure each other out. Part of that is religious and part of it is cultural, pure-and-simple (50% of our neighbours do not speak English as a first language).

But I can tell you as easily what I do appreciate about being a Christian far from the centre of the evangelical subculture: the way the insignificant, contentious basura sinks to the bottom of the pond while the important stuff, the why-we're-here-Sunday-after-Sunday stuff rises to the top; the way being on the margins of a culture diminishes the importance of the differences on which we Christians, in places of strength, expend so much energy; and the striking beauty of the Body of Christ when its members counter-culturally choose to come together, taking the bread and drinking the cup at the invitation of their shared Lord.

Don't get me wrong; it is not all beauty.  There is strain and brokenness, not just in the rubs that are part of any congregational life but in the strong sense of disconnect that pervades life in Vancouver.  Life together is difficult to achieve, as it is for any group for whom affinity is a rare commodity.  An ongoing sense of isolation and distance is the price we pay for not sticking with our own tribes in worship.

But the unity on essentials is something I find remarkable, perhaps because I have come from the strongholds in which so much energy went into preserving power over what is peripheral.  I am not so naive as to think that isolation, persecution, or (as Milosz put it) "pressure", are the magic pills the evangelical Church needs to swallow in order to be healed of its infirmities.  But I do believe the evangelical strongholds could learn something from our post-Christian reality.  (If the studies are right, it is increasingly becoming theirs too).

And it is this: that Christ, at the end of the day, is still all in all.  That although North American Christians find their power waning and influence diminishing, Christ is still King and perfectly able to be about His Father's business.  That He can, as He promised, gather together a People who were formerly not a people.  And that powerful, or diminishing in power, or utterly powerless, we are invited to be part of what He is doing today.  And He is, as always, doing very good things.

It is something like a miracle.  Like witnessing Christianity reborn.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thankful



For the record, I'm totally mangling my abstract-sequential way of life by posting on "T" before I post on "S".  I like straight lines, connected lines, tasks carried out according to plan and IN ORDER.  

But this time I'm going out of order.

Because it's Thanksgiving.  And I am thankful.

For the little boys and good man with whom I share the most ordinary and interesting parts of my life.
For a church family to which I belong, that sincerely tries to love God and our neighbours.
For the surprise of soul-healing that came through an injured back (or, more accurately, through the deep love and long quiet I received when I couldn't care for myself or my family).
For the God who continues to carry me.
For the Christ who embodies everything I desire to be, and who I trust is at work even now to make me more like Him.
For the Spirit who constantly beckons me to life with God, in God.
For friends who stand in as family, when our families are all far away.
For the communion of saints, and the Words of Life they have passed and continue to pass onto me.
For the beauty of the earth, and the particular grey-green flood-forest in which I make my home.
For the signs of the Kingdom of God breaking forth all around me.
For the opportunity to partner in bringing that Kingdom forth ever more fully.
For hope after days of hopelessness.
For light after days of dark.
For all the good and the beautiful, the things I can see and the things I cannot yet see.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Recent Reads

I promised in the last post to share what I've been reading these past two months.  By limiting it to that time period, I can avoid revealing the fact that my summer reading adventures included neglecting my family in order to blast through The Hunger Games.  And I also don't have to tell you that, because of a chance viewing of Twilight on TV one night, I ended up requesting all of the Twilight books from the library and reading them in a few days.

For the record, though I would happily read The Hunger Games again, I cannot say the same for Twilight.  It was great for a one-time cheesy, escapist distraction into sparkly Vampireville.  But I'm good now.  (No offence intended, Twilight apasionados.) 

And now, having not revealed my young adult novel escapades, here are the grown-up books I've spent the last two months reading:


Facing the River, by Czeslaw Milosz
This was my introduction to one of the greatest poets of the modern era.  Very powerful stuff when you know the back-story of Lithuania/Poland in the first half of the 20th century.
"We wanted to confess our sins but there were no takers.
White clouds refused to accept them, and the wind
Was too busy visiting sea after sea."



Beginning With My Streetsby Czeslaw Milosz
Because I'm a little obssessed with both Milosz and Lithuania at the moment (and Vilna in particular).  These are essays and letters of his, not quite so good as his poetry but personally interesting to me.



Hasidic Tales of the Holocaust, by Yaffa Eliach.
Eliach is the author of one of my favourite books, There Once Was a World, which chronicles the life and death of one of the Eastern European Jewish shtetls.  Her Hasidic Tales is one of the first Holocaust books I've been able to read in a very long time (not counting one by Miep Gies, but that was about Jews in hiding not those dying in the camps).  It is tragic, and yet inspiring, full of faith-stories in the face of unspeakable inhumanity.  I highly recommend it


The Reverse of the Medal, The Letter of the Marque, The Thirteen-Gun Salute, by Patrick O'Brian
When my dad died, he was almost finished with O'Brian's Aubrey/Maturin series (Master and Commander, etc.)  I inherited his books in that series up to the last book before these three (thank you, Vancouver Public Library, for helping me finish the rest).  It's good historical fiction, an interesting view into the very male world of the British navy in the 19th century.  I wish I could talk to Dad about them.



Pilgrim Path: The First Company of Women Missionaries to Hawaii, by Mary Zwiep (no image)
A fascinating look at the female members of the earliest missionaries to Hawaii.  I'm sure this is one of those great missionary books that sold like three copies (not such a wide audience appeal, unfortunately).  But I really, really enjoyed it, and was particularly heartened to read that they felt a constant tug between their intensive domestic duties and the call to ministry that had prompted them to sail thousands of miles from their homes and families.  Maybe heartened isn't the right word...just comforted to remember, again, that I'm not alone in my women-in-ministry struggles.


Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis, by Lauren F. Winner





I think this is her best book to date by far.  Or perhaps I just picked it up precisely when I needed to do.  Either way, I can't recommend it enough, especially if your faith has been recently injured.  What I really appreciate (apart from the plethora of wisdom she has gleaned from various sources) is that Winner does not screw around with her own divorce narrative.  She does not excuse herself from what is, if I may be so uncharitable, a divorce strikingly similar to the one narrated in Eat, Pray, Love.  And by that, I mean that she divorces an apparently nice man for what remain unscrutable reasons.


Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots
by Deborah Feldman (no image)
There's a lot of controversy surrounding this book (a whole website is devoted to debunking everything Feldman claims happens to her).  But I think it's a worthwhile read when taken with a grain of salt.  It doesn't offer the most positive view of Hasidism (obviously, since she left her community), but there's a lot of cultural anthropology provided that I think is insightful and, based on other things I've read on Hasidism, accurate.
Porcupines and China Dolls, by Robert Arthur Alexie
A difficult read, a novel based on the experience of survivors of residential schools in the Northwest Territories of Canada.  I have, I confess, avoided reading about residential schools much until now.  For whatever reason, it was time to begin.  What I (painfully) appreciated about it was the better understanding it provided of how the teaching of Christianity in the terrible setting of residential schools impacted survivors...and why Christianity continues to be unacceptable for so many in the First Nations communities.  I kind of got that before, but I feel like I understand it better now.  God forgive us.



Currently Reading
Orhan Pamuk, Snow
Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Nomad
Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy


Re-reads
Superfudge by Judy Blume
Just as funny as I remembered, now fun to read with my oldest son.
Anne of Avonlea, Anne of the Island, Anne's House of Dreams, by L.M. Montgomery.
I picked these up at our local thrift store.  And no longer remembered how I lived without "Anne-girl" for so many years.

Thank God for good books.  Any recommendations from anyone out there?

Friday, November 9, 2012

Quotes

Over the past two years, I've taken to "making extracts" like sister Mary in Pride and Prejudice.  Good thing I was born in the 20th century U.S. and not in 19th century England:  my Mr. Darcy might have ignored for me for my witty, dancing sister!

Seriously.  I AM Mary Bennett.
Not sure how I ended up there.  But here are some of the "extracts" (quotations) from my recent reads (books, articles, blog posts...the full list of books will be in next week's post).  They have helped me in my recent struggles, sorrows, and sorting-out-of-life.  Maybe they will help you too.

On the Christian Faith
"...the real problem lies not in recognizing the therapeutic balm in the gospel.  The real problem is going through life thinking that the health you need can be found anywhere else."  -Lauren F. Winner, Still.

"If he [Jesus] were to come today as he did then, he could carry out his mission through most any decent and useful occupation...In other words, if he were to come today, he could very well do what you do.  He could very well live in your apartment or house, hold down your job, having your education and life prospects, and live within your family, surroundings, and time.  None of this would be the least hindrance to the eternal kind of life that was his by nature and becomes available to us through him.  Our human life, it turns out, is not destroyed by God's life but is fulfilled in it and in it alone."  -Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy

"If Christ is to visit us
it will be in such pitiful days as these."
             -Elana Shvartz, quoted by Winner in Still.

On Womanhood
"My friend Ruth's mother once told her, 'Every ten years you have to remake everything.'  Reshape yourself.  Reorient yourself.  Remake everything."  -Winner, Still.

"This...is a war that early every woman faces every day, a war within herself too, a belief in her superfluity, an invitation to silence."  -Rebecca Solnit (in a post of which I can no longer find the name)

On Making the Most of the Time that is Given Us
"You would be surprised if you knew how soon one begins to feel the shortness of the tether, of how many things, even in middle life, we have to say, 'No time for that,' 'Too late now,' and 'Not for me.'  But Nature herself forbids you to share that experience.  A more Christian attitude, which can be attained at any age, is that of leaving futurity in God's hands.  We may as well, for God will certainly retain it whether we leave it to Him or not.  Never, in peace or war, commit your virtue or your happiness to the future.  Happy work is best done by the [wo]man who takes his [her] long-term plans somewhat lightly and works from moment to moment 'as to the Lord.'  It is only our daily bread that we are encouraged to ask for.  The present is the only time in which any duty can be done or any grace received."  -C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory.

"One of the biggest myths of our generation is that we need clarity in order to commit...If we wait until we have it all spelled out, that's no longer faith-driven commitment--that's just executing a plan.  Commitment must be laced with doubt and hesitation and mystery...Stop waiting for all the answers, for certainty, for assurances.  Commitment precedes clarity every single time."  -Alece Ronzino at her blog "Grit and Glory"


On the Communion of Saints
"I start to suspect that the reason my Christian life hasn't completely conked out is that even when I am not praying, other people pray for me, on my behalf."  -Winner, Still.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Politics

Matt and I mailed off our U.S. absentee ballots last week.

(Thank you, Oregon, for a particularly interesting set of options this time around.  Private casinos?  Marijuana?  You never cease to amaze me ).

I'm not going to tell you who to vote for.

I'm not going to tell you how I voted.

But I will tell you to vote.

Because if you can, you should.  Even if the options dismay you.

People around the world are (literally) dying to have the voice in government you have.

So vote.  November 6.  It matters.


----


On a lighter note, here are my favourite political images that people have shared with me this election season. There are more "liberal" than "conservative" ones, but that wasn't intentional.  I think conservatives just take things more...seriously.  So first these funny ones:

Being Liberal posted this one, giving original credit to Gloria Steinem.  The first two are my favourites.


From The Looking Spoon, a conservative site.  This cracked me up.


Another Being Liberal image, attributed to KoolRPix.


Being Liberal again.  So funny!


And finally, a helpful reminder for all of my American brothers and sisters in faith (back to the serious):




With love to you all, 

Kadee

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Odds 'n Ends

Some pictures of the good and lovely things in my life...just a few of the ones I can see:

The most beautiful fall in Vancouver's collective memory.

My witty, dramatic, nearly-nine-year-old.
My sunny, soft-spoken, nearly-seven-year-old.

My fearless, tenacious, nearly-three-year-old.

Flowers rescued from a gardener's compost heap, set amidst nuts collected by my six-year-old.

My husband.  My love.  My rock.  What would I have done without you?

Friday, October 12, 2012

Numb



Warning:  Rather personal, painful stuff follows.
------

Some of you may be wondering why four posts on modesty took so long to churn out.

[Or some of you, having followed my blog for three years now, will have attributed it to the general slacker state in which I live.  I'm okay with that.]

Truth to tell, I've been in a bit of a fog for the past few months.  It's starting to thin out a bit, thank God.  But writing in a fog is tricky.  Living in a fog is tricky.

It started in June of this year, as I was preparing to announce to friends and family that Matt and I were expecting our fourth baby.

We got to week 11.  

Then something went wrong.  Little signs of trouble, the kind that can't be taken lightly.

I was referred, for the third time in a month, to a clinic especially for women in the early stages of pregnancy.  Both times before I had gone alone and left reassured by a happy little heartbeat fluttering wildly on the screen.

A heartbeat is a miracle.

The third time around, Matt was able to take time off work and come with me.

A good and necessary thing.  Because this time there was no happy little heartbeat.  No wild fluttering on the screen.  Just a tiny little baby's form, grey and silent in a circle of black.  My baby.

The technician apologised and handed me a tissue.  Matt squeezed my hand as my eyes bored holes into the ultrasound screen, willing that heart to beat even knowing it never would again.  I cried. Terrible, fat, silent tears.

Decisions have to be made when a baby dies like this one did.  I've had to make them before.  And this time, Matt and I decided not to let things play out naturally.  We scheduled an appointment to return for a D & C. 

I had two days in between. Two days in which I saw and spoke to almost no one, except my little family.  I left the phone calls and the explanations to Matt.

We went back to the clinic on the the third day.

I know there are worse things that happen to people.  So much worse.  But that D & C was my own private hell-- wicked painful, mentally and physically devastating.  I was awake for it, unlike the last one, and that perhaps is what did me in.

In all my other miscarriages, prayer has been my natural response, my anchor of sanity.  But this time I couldn't pray at all.  Maybe it was the pain.  Maybe it was the drugs.  Maybe it was the ups and down of the previous six weeks, that blessed heartbeat there, there, then not there.  Maybe it was just knowing what the doctors were doing.

I probably shouldn't have been awake.

Whatever it was, I couldn't pray.  All I could do, over and over as the doctors did what they had to do, was repeat two lines from the French version of [of all things] Green Eggs and Ham, which I had read to my sons a few nights before:  

"Je ne veux pas, je ne peux pas"
(I do not want, I cannot)

It was a protest.  
I know that now.  
A way of saying, to Whoever was listening, 
I didn't want this.  
You know I didn't want this. 
How can You ask me to do this again?

But it was asked, and it was done.

And I was shattered in that operating room.

Back home to my three little boys.  Food brought in by my beloved church family.  Crying on my husband, often.  Eventually even going back to work.

But I've been stuck on the first rung of that grief ladder everyone talks about.  Denial.  Numbness.  Living but not looking.  Seeing but not facing.   Knowing but not naming.  I've buried myself in books and movies and TV for months, refusing (or perhaps unable) to look this thing straight in the eye.  A friend called a few weeks after the D&C with condolences for me, and it took me a few minutes to realize what she was talking about.

I did what I never thought possible:  just tried to forget.  I submitted to the fog.  

But it has to dissipate, eventually.  The numbness begins to fade.  I'm remembering things now that I tried to forget: the anxiety, the uncertainty, the trips to the clinic.  Mostly I'm starting to remember her, that baby I named and prayed for and thanked God for.  Whose heart I was privileged to witness beating, beating, and then silent, whose life I was blessed to nourish for nearly three months.  Who I loved so much it hurt, whose loss devastated me...continues to devastate me.

---

Lord, I still don't get it.  
I still don't want it.
I just wanted her, and I lost her. 
But thank you for the numbness.
For allowing me the fog.
I needed it.
And I take it as a gift from You.

Your,

Kadee

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Modesty & Me

Four posts on one subject may give you the idea that I think about modesty all of the time.  I don't, not as a woman and not as a Christian.  By age 33 what you wear is fairly well integrated into who you are.  But here's how I got to modesty, in case you were wondering:

The church(es) in which I grew up (Disciples of Christ and Nazarene congregations) didn't say much about how to dress. At least not that I remember.  They left that to my parents. My parents, for their part, sent me mixed messages about the idea. First there was my dad, who constantly told my sister and me that we were beautiful from our earliest days until he died. At the same time, we were cautioned several times by my dad (not my mom, my dad) on the need to be modest. "Modesty" was the word used to direct our four-year-old selves not to walk around the house without clothes. Modesty was the word used when I was told as as second grader to sit carefully when wearing a dress ("if you are going to wear a dress, you can't sit that way").  Modesty.

Even as I write these words I get the sick feeling of shame that came into my little girl's heart with those well-intentioned talks. Like there was something wrong with me. Modesty, as my dad conveyed it, implied that my body was dangerous as an object. It might catch the attention of those who wished to exploit it. That sense of personal danger bothered me, certainly it embarrassed me: but it was effective, and I heeded Dad's warnings.

So there I was, beautiful but needing to be modest, keenly aware of my responsibility to protect my body from a too-wide view by other people (by which, of course, my dad meant men). That, in a nutshell, is the modesty-theology I inherited from my father.

From my mother I inherited a funnier set of ideas. My mom is a veritable fashionista now, but while I was growing up she preferred blue jeans and one of my dad's flannel shirts to any of the rich clothing offerings of the 1980's. I remember once looking longingly at a friend's mother who was over, wishing my Mom could also have beautiful ratted, hair-sprayed hair and a powder pink sweater. Alas, 'twas not meant to be!

Mom didn't seem to care much about how she dressed; at least not then (though it would change, as I've said). Add to that the fact that Mom was uber-frugal when it came to our clothing, and my sister and I were set up for fashion failure. Starting in eighth grade,  we were responsible for buying our own clothes. Our birthdays fell in August, fortunately, so we had enough money to buy some back-to-school clothes. But then we were left to the mercy of Christmas for any supplements, and the clearance racks of Target and JC Penney for the rest. The one exception to this was the clothes we wore to church: those (dresses/pants suits) my parents purchased for us.

Add the deeply ingrained cautions about modesty to this fashion-disinterested frugality and adolescence found me a skinny girl with a melange of baggy jeans, t-shirts, and sweatshirts that I shared with my twin sister. And I was okay with it, most of the time.

This was the way it was until my senior year of high school, when my dear dad brought to my attention the fact that my sister and I did not dress very "feminine." I was taken aback when he brought it up, and again embarrassed. But I justified it on two counts: first, that it was comfortable; and second, that we couldn't afford feminine clothes, because of the buy-your-own clothes rule.

I think Dad had some words to me on the first point, but I have long since forgotten them. What I remember was his response to the affordability problem: Dad immediately made plans to take me to the nearest big city on a shopping trip. Which was good and generous, but also tough on two counts: first, that we had apparently gone shopping during one of the ugliest fashion seasons of that decade. And second, that I felt guilty having my dad buy clothes for me. I was not used to spending much money on myself, and seeing how much it would cost for him to buy clothes made me feel very bad. So I picked out only a few, inexpensive things, and we went home.

A small change.  But a significant one.

The first few boyfriends came and went that year too, and that made its impact.  Being attractive, not just comfortable, became important to me, and I started dressing more conscientiously, helped out by some more fashion-conscious friends at college.  I can't say I would consider what I wore then modest by my personal-mommy-pastor standards now, but I was unmarried then, and in university.  People dress differently in that demographic, and as much fun as it would be to beat "me" up now over it, I've let it go.

I went to Israel in 1999, and met Matt.  I asked him a few months ago, while thinking of this subject, about the shorts I was wearing the first day I met him.  If my legs had offended him when we met on the stairs of Beit Bernstein in Jerusalem?  He gave me a funny look, the "Kadee, you're crazy look," and retorted, "No!"

So my legs didn't offend him.  But Israel played its part in my modesty journey, too.  I got a lot of flack when I went into the Old City for my blonde hair, so much that I tried covering it with a large white cloth like a Muslim girl.  Ironically, that got me even more flack, so I abandoned it.  I did find that pulling my hair back into a braid resulted in less honks and comments, so whenever I had to walk in the city alone I made sure my hair was in braids.  I never went into the Old City alone, and I was careful to wear long skirts or pants whenever I walked around other parts of the city alone.  It was in some ways out of anger, out of resentment, but mostly stemming from a simple desire to be left alone.

Did that affect me in the way I dressed when I returned?  Does it affect me now?

Yes and no.  Certainly I wore more long skirts when I returned to school.  I came back with a slightly more conservative sense of what I personally was comfortable with.  But if anything, those negative experiences impacted far more my general feelings on female dress.  It reinforced the belief I shared in my first post, that modesty--with its wildly varying and constantly changing rules--cannot and should not be the primary factor in female safety and comfort.  The primary factor in female safety and comfort must be a shared commitment by a society for all of its members, male and female included, to be safe whatever they are wearing.  I was followed and harassed a couple of times in Jerusalem, as were other female friends of mine.  It didn't matter if we were in shorts or long skirts, hair covered in hats or hair flowing down our backs.  We just weren't safe, because we were women.  That reality made me angry.  Not bitterly so, but enough to make me, today, continue pushing back against those who blame women for the injustices they experience.

The effects of the harassment--mostly, the sense of insecurity--have followed me into every city I've lived in since, from Bishkek to Vancouver.  I walk, as a woman, with wary eyes.  This, I know now, is not psychosis: it is a normal part of female experience.  And I'm glad to say that some cities are genuinely safer, and I'm thankful to live in one of those cities.

But the harassment shaped how I dress as well.  Especially on the street.  As I've discussed before, my walk to work is along one of the main streets in Vancouver on which you can find street prostitutes.  It is a common side effect on such streets for all women to be viewed as possible prostitutes.  So I try to dress in such a way that there can be no confusion, so that I can give myself at least the illusion of safety.

Mindful, of course, that it is an illusion.  One night I was waiting at a bus stop (a bus stop, mind you, not a street corner), wearing rain boots, long pants, gloves, and a baggy raincoat with the hood pulled over my hair.  And a man pulled up and parked in front of me, waiting, waiting, waiting for me to get in and join him.  Coverage didn't matter to him.  He finally left after a few minutes, when I reached in my purse to pull out...something, I'm not sure what, but I think he thought it was a phone and he sped off into the night.

Modesty isn't armour.  And if it is, it has its big chinks.  And one of those chinks is the intentions of other people.  If someone is determined towards harassment or exploitation, modesty will probably not protect you.  That's the sad truth.

One final thought on the matter.  Some people, through no fault of their own, will be more harassed about being modest than others.  God decided to give me a string bean body, and I think that has saved me from some of the modesty tirades my friends have received.  I remember clearly when I was a camp counsellor, one of my campers was lectured by a male counsellor because of the way she dressed.

But let me assure you, the problem was NOT the way she dressed.  The problem was that she was beautiful, just gorgeous.  And when she dressed like every other girl was dressing that summer, just the same as me in fact, she was more attractive than any of us.  She aroused feelings in that counsellor (and no doubt all the boys at camp) that he didn't like to have aroused.  And rather than face the beast within himself, he directed the blame at her.

The counsellor was out of line.  I thought so then, and I know so now.  But he helped make clear to me a truth about the great temptation we humans always face: to blame others for our own sins, to be angry and accusatory towards others about our feelings of lust or attraction, rather than taking them to God and others in confession and prayerfully asking for help.

When modesty is offered by us to others as a remedy for our own feelings, we need to be careful.  Very careful.  Something may or may not need to be said.  What we need to really, carefully discern is whether something needs to be said by us.  Are we really the person who needs to speak into someone's life about what is a highly sensitive and charged issue?  Or do we need to give some space for that person to come to their own conclusions?

We might need to speak.  I know that.  As parents in particular, we have a primary role in shaping our kids' attitudes towards their own bodies and respectful dressing of those bodies.  For as much embarrassment as my dad's modesty talks brought to me, I appreciate that early on he alerted me to the fact that this world is a dangerous place for women.  That I would need, all my life, to be mindful of my body--because others are certainly being mindful of it whether I want them to be or not.

But if we need to speak, as we sometimes will, we need to speak with grace.  With love.  Without shame.  And with a careful appraisal of our own motives.  I keep harping on this, but I do so with the millions of North American girls in mind who get so many mixed messages, and hear from the church only the harsh clanging of modesty-driven cymbals.  They deserve better than that.  We all deserve better than that.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Modesty: Context & Conscience

With my last post I managed to do precisely what I intended not to do in this series, and that was to make the issue of modesty primarily about temptation.  That temptation has something to say to the subject of modesty is a given, especially for Christians. But what I really INTENDED to do was to let temptation be a sort of 1-inch circle on which we touched down for a moment (because it's ridiculous to pretend it's not a factor) before leaping into the larger, healthier conversation around modesty.

But then I didn't write for two months.  So temptation turned into a couch instead, the kind of theological couch on which women-blamers of 2000+ years have been very comfortable to rest and write laws and throw stones.  Please forgive me for that.

Here is the couch I intended to land on instead:

A few years ago, I noticed something was missing in my neighbourhood.

LEGS.

I don't mean that literally, of course.  But in the realm of dress and modesty, I noticed that our neighbourhood's women generally kept their legs covered up.  I'm totally speculating as to why that was, but my (educated) guess is that it relates to two things: first, most of the women in my little world--at the parks, at the community centre, and at the preschool--were mothers and grandmothers. Increased body coverage, in my experience, occurs either with the onset of puberty or after having children.  And second, and this is perhaps more to the point, most of my women neighbours hail from mainland China or Vietnam, where standards of modest dress are very different than they are in the mostly-white, North American context in which I grew up.  And, so far as I can tell, that involves keeping your legs covered from the knees up.

I might never have noticed this, except that one summer day, while picking our kids up from preschool, one of the other moms wore shorts.  [She also, it should be noted, grew up in a mostly-white, North American context like my own].  And before I could stop it or analyze it thought, "Woah, LEGS!"  It had been so long since I had seen someone else's legs uncovered that way that I myself was distracted by them (despite the fact that I often wore shorts myself).

It was a bit of a watershed moment for me.  Before that, I hadn't really thought too much about my neighbourhood and whether what I was wearing was the norm.  After that, I did.  And do you know that I stopped wearing shorts-above-the-knee in my neighbourhood after that?  Not because I think wearing shorts is inappropriate.  I don't.  But because I figured that if her legs were distracting to me, my legs would no doubt be distracting to other men and women around me.  And I wasn't interested in being a distraction.  So it was bermudas or bust after that.

Modesty, in many ways, tries to simply deal with the issue of distraction. With safety.  With being sensitive to the cultural expectations of those around us, and balancing those expectations with our own sense of comfort.  With that in mind, I think modesty, at  its best, falls into the theological stream of wisdom, rather than of virtue.   "Live as wise, not as unwise!" Paul exhorts the church in Ephesus, and Christians down through the ages.  And wisdom, while timeless, must by necessity take context into account, as well as the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  When modesty is seen as virtue, as it has been in some streams of Christianity and continues to be in other faiths, varying degrees of coverage are used to signal a particular kind of righteousness.  My friend Laura, in a great comment on my first post on this topic, talked about her own discomfort with the women in Sierra Leone who tend to take far less coverage as the norm of social propriety.  Are the women of Sierra Leone less righteous or virtuous than we in North America because of that fact? I seriously doubt it.  Elisabeth Elliot, in a small book she published on her first year living with an isolated tribe in South America, noticed that though both male and female members of the tribe wore very little clothing, they also were unencumbered with the pervasive issues of vanity and materialism that we in North America are.  Which I think illustrates a great point (and reason that modesty should be considered a matter of wise living, rather than a sign of virtue):  Increased coverage may lend itself to sexual morality, or it may not; it may lend itself to humility and modest attitudes, or it may lend itself to pride and self-righteousness.  I have seen both happen.

A better question than the question of "How can I show myself to be righteous by my dress?" is I think, "What is my context, and how can I dress wisely in this particular context?"  Wisdom, I believe, takes into account general practices of other people regarding gender, coverage and fit, as well as personal comfort and conscience in conforming to or deviating from those practices.  Paying attention not only to what other people are wearing but to how I feel when I wear something is important.

And feeling attractive is not a bad thing.

[No really, it's not.]

Feeling uncomfortable or unsafe is a bad thing.

[Which may have to do with your dress or may simply have to do with the jerks around you.  It's important to know which.]

Feeling distracted because your skirt is too clingy or your bathing suit too skimpy and you'd rather not have everyone so clued into your contours is a bad thing.

[And contrary to our friends at Vogue, I think you need not always "get confident" so much as "get comfortable"...maybe in a different skirt or a different bathing suit next time.]

My point is, both the internal and external clues are important.  A wise woman (or man) will pay attention to both.  If wearing a particular kind of clothing guarantees being distracting or being taken less seriously or just sticking out like a sore thumb, we should at the very least take that into consideration.  And perhaps change our wardrobes (if we can, which is a whole other subject).

And as we do, we will be reminded that how one dresses in Kansas will be different than how one dresses in Kenya.  It means that how one dresses in Vancouver will be different than how one dresses in Vanuatu.  Or L.A. and Liberia, Indiana or Iran.   It means that beach-wear will be different than office-wear, and home-wear may be different than public-wear.

And it also means that you, in good Christian conscience, may dress differently in Kansas than I would.  And that's okay.  It also means that you, in good Christian conscience, may dress differently at the beach than I would.  And that's okay too.  That may need hashing it out as a community or as friends, having conversations about it as needed, giving and receiving advice as needed.  Certainly in some contexts the question grows hazier than others.

What I hope, as I stated at the beginning of this, is that on the subject we treat each other with respect, and even more than that with love.

Love is a virtue, after all.  There's no confusion about that.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Modesty: Temptation

A few months ago I was teaching a class on the Lord's Prayer to both adults and children at our church.  When we got to the part ,"And lead us not into temptation", I followed my lesson plan and went to a nearby supermarket to buy some magazines.  The idea was to provide collage materials (pictures, words, phrases) that would help identify temptations in our modern context.  I figured that between People and Vogue and Better Homes and Gardens (and whatever it was that men buy, I wasn't sure), I would find a variety of temptations.

Maybe you see the problem with that already.  I didn't until I got there.

People is...whatever, People, and Better Homes and Gardens is...whatever, Better Homes and Gardens.  But the Canadian alternatives to Vogue--Glamour, Flare, and whatever else I picked up that day, all in their summer-is-coming-glory--were crammed with half-naked people.  Mostly women.

And I was suddenly confronted with The Problem.  How could I teach my brothers and sisters (and in particular the boys and men in the class) to pray "And lead us not into temptation" and then set pictures of half-naked women in front of them?

I couldn't, of course.  So I left Glamour and Flare right there on the magazine racks, and moved further to the left where Seventeen and other younger-audience magazines were.  And found, thank God, that the girls and young women in Seventeen were photographed more modestly than their Vogue-style counterparts.  No half-scoops of breast falling out, no three-feet of perfectly-bronzed legs propped up by 5-inch heels, none of the strange, sultry stares with the mouths half open and the eyes blanked of intelligence.  I can't tell you how relieved I was.

But I didn't buy Seventeen or any of the other magazines in the teeny-bopper section, even though the young women and girls were dressed modestly and in less sexualized poses.   Because these same magazines were crammed, front-to-back with half-naked boys and men.

Now, when I say half-naked boys, I'm being more literal than I was with regards to the women in the other magazines.  The boys were literally wearing nothing on top.  One could speculate all day as to why younger age affected female body presentation and not male.  And let me be clear: I can only speculate, I don't know for sure.  But the simplest reason I can think of is that men and boys can, without too much to-do, go half-naked in sports and swimming without raising any fuss.  But beyond that, I can't help but think that boy-objectification scares people far less than girl-objectification.  If boys are objectified we assume (wrongly) that they can take care of themselves. There's not a real threat.  But for girls, objectification means danger.  Thus the underage girls in Seventeen were covered in a moment of media sanity, but the half-naked boys remained, to be taken and purchased and then ogled.

Which is fine and dandy (okay, it isn't), but how could I teach people (especially the girls and women in the class) to pray, "and lead us not into temptation" and then set pictures of half-naked men and boys in front of them?

I couldn't.  So I left them there.

Which brings me to what will be the simple, main point of this post on modesty.  I obviously can't speak for Muslims and Jews or any other people of faith when it comes to why modesty should be practiced as part of one's religion.  But I can speak for Christians (or at the very least, for me).  If we pray "Lead us not into temptation" we are praying for us, not just for me.  In which case, all of our lives--including the way we dress ourselves--should be informed by a consideration to not knowingly tempt our brothers and sisters to sin.

That doesn't mean, as my good friend Laura pointed out in comment on my last post, that there is a magical way of female dress that will eliminate male sexual temptation entirely (her example was a baggy sweatshirt and jeans...mine was a burqa.)  If that is the goal, we are doomed before we ever begin.  I still remember the day in my first psychology class when we were told the frequency with which men had sexual thoughts throughout the day.  It was something like every five minutes--or maybe less, but some number that absolutely astounded me.  While I think that statistic has been debunked a bit, all the guys I incredulously asked at the time told me it was true.

(And if it is, then fo-shizzle ladies, there's only so much we can do.)

Still.  We can do something.  We can, at the very least, be thoughtful about how we dress ourselves.  We can be aware of the fact that fashion magazines like Vogue and Glamour and Cosmo are invested in promoting hyper-sexualized fashion (and their own sets of sexual ethics) for women and men.  We can thoughtfully evaluate what messages our clothing sends about our sexual ethics and availability, and whether that message is congruent with what we believe and desire.

The specifics with which we answer these questions (hemlines, necklines, form-fitting or loose, etc.) vary from culture to culture and age to age and situation to situation.  I will talk about that more in the next post.  But I can say, without hesitation, that in this culture and this age, Vogue and Glamour will not help us.  We will have to figure it out in spite of them.

What rules of thumb do you follow when it comes to modest dress?  How does your faith inform what you wear (if it does)?