Building Up

This is my last post for the week on The Modesty Issue. For me, it’s something of a test case for our attitudes towards guidelines and grace, community, and sexuality; an interesting place to explore what it means to be faithful in the small things. If this is something that’s really important to you – and especially if you have something to push back about – consider starting at the beginning? 

I’m not about to make or interpret a list of rules here. But, having sifted through some things and torn down some ideas and attitudes, it seems unhelpful to stop there, as if we can walk away smugly brushing off our hands; as if it isn’t important to be faithful in the small things; as if people only merit consideration if they first acknowledge that we are right.

How, after all, am I going respond to modesty-requesting-male?
Christian male: “I’m trying here. I’m coming to you with humility and saying, could you do a guy a favor and think about what you wear?”

extra modest, extra holy

extra modest, extra holy

First, I do think about what I wear. People on both “sides” of this discussion often conflate “deciding what to wear” with “considering or prioritizing others when deciding what to wear.” I always do the former; whether I choose the latter depends on the situation I’m in.

Second, my standardized-theoretical-internet-conversation response to the question would be that I’m rarely doing anyone any favors by dressing to accommodate them. I’m enabling inappropriate attitudes towards my body, stifling myself, and contributing to a culture that has trapped me and my sisters in suspicion and shame towards our bodies.

Instead I will do him the favor of making the church a safer place to work out legitimate struggles with lust, a more educated place to distinguish those from normal sexual attraction, a more welcoming place where we can listen to one another’s stories before judging one another’s appearances.

I will do him the favor of loving my own body and treating it as the gift it is. I will reveal through my words, actions and attitudes that a bikini cannot conceal my dignity. Dignity is my own choice, not a gift men get to bestow or withhold. And I will do him the favor of teaching younger women the same, that whether a man wants her to wear more clothes or fewer, be more flirtatious or less, in fact any time someone asks her to be less than herself, I will beg her to remember that any love you have to earn is a lie.

But very occasionally, my-day-to-day, living-life-with-other-people answer might change.

My last housemate has a phobia of dogs. I can’t really understand it and I hope she conquers her fear one day. But I get infuriated when other people decide it’s their job to fix her today. We’d go to people’s houses and they would refuse to shut their dogs up somewhere for a while, and usually they’d actually bring the dog over and try to make her touch it. As she was literally running away. They not only displayed an utter lack of empathy; they also distracted everyone in the room from whatever we were trying to do. Even if it we were just socializing, it was rude.

There may be times when it’s not my job to fix Modesty Mike; when today is just not Modesty Mike’s day to engage in heavy introspection and complex discussions of feminism. There may be times when, though Modesty Mike’s attitudes are oppressive or even subtly misogynistic, I have to recognize that today is his day for something else, and he is still a human being with myriad facets. The greater good here may be that I remove a distraction in order to interact with him. His fear of my body is his problem, yes; but I can put on a long skirt without putting on the shame I’m “supposed” to feel towards my knees. I think Jonalyn Fincher’s reference to St. Paul – becoming all things to all people that I may win some – is appropriate here.

This is also true for someone who may be a close friend, who may be trying, but truly has an inordinate struggle with inappropriate thoughts or actions. I’d do all I could to help that person develop good practices and maybe find them a counselor – but I’d also do what I could to be sensitive in what I wore. Because occasionally, we are called to follow Jesus in taking the consequences of others’ sins on ourselves.

That is how I dress.

And this is how I look at others – in the hope that humility and love can drown lust and use.

how to look at people.
Recognize a human form.
Gaze deep, ask his eyes to tell yours who he is. Thank God for him.
Recognize the image of God stamped over every inch. See his capacity for love and his capacity for pain – for they are the same. See him where we all are: wanting to give but afraid to be hurt, trying to do something worthwhile but also to enjoy this short life if he can. Don’t hide from him, and rejoice if he does not hide from you. Love him.
Recognize a body, let him be matter and dust, let yourself care about his scars, let him and you be in a moment, of time, of space, experienced through your senses. Love the strength of sinew and tissue for lifting children, the skill of the fingers for making music, the delicacy of the hollow between collarbones for its senseless, unuseful beauty. He is his own. Let him be.
Recognize sexuality, his and yours, flowing sometimes like a river and burning sometimes like a furnace, unpredictable, glad, bright, frightening, unwieldy, irrepressible. Wonder at all this and find humility when your body, your mind remind you they can’t always be controlled. Accept desire but remember the eyes, all the strength and all the fear with which he encounters you, yourself beautiful and frightening. Do not use his desire against him. Pray for him.
Exalt in all that he lets you see, and love him more tender for all you may never know, and show him himself beautiful, but above all rejoice that he is God’s and he is his own. Let him be attractive and active and complex beyond bearing, do not use him, let him be and be and be, human, with you.

Thanks for hanging on til the end! The snap decision to write a “series” turned out to be fun, helpful in processing my own thoughts… and really exhausting. If you missed them, here are the rest of the posts.

Part 1: Modesty on the Mount
Part 2: Lust is and isn’t
Part 3: Sex in community
Part 4: Building up

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  1. Jacqueline in Atlanta

     /  July 11, 2013

    Wow. What an amazing amount of thinking. Keep thinking and sharing. The world needs your voice – a fresh drink of water.

  2. Wow, your “how to look at people” is amazing. Yes, this is a big part of ceasing to objectify each other. We need new eyes. Just found your blog today. Great stuff!!


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