It’s Not About the Clothes

Modesty (5)

Gentle Reader,

In my post Sex and the Christian Family I touched on the need to discuss modesty of dress with children of both genders. As “modesty” is a buzzword with varying interpretations, I’d like to share with you exactly what I mean when I use it.

First, there is a huge difference between endorsing sensible modesty of dress and endorsing what is sometimes called “purity culture,” a culture that often goes hand-in-hand with Christian fundamentalism. While I do think that there are fundamentals of faith, things that must be believed in order to be a Christian (the literal death and Resurrection of Christ; the hypostatic union; the virgin birth; the inerrancy of Scripture, for example), I’m not a fundamentalist. I don’t believe in strict gender roles. I don’t think that the Genesis account of creation has to be interpreted as six literal days (those I also don’t accept naturalistic evolution, so basically I make nobody happy). I don’t think God has a problem with women preachers. (I wrote about this in the series Not the Fundamentals if you want more).

Purity balls skeeve me out. Frankly, they give off an incestuous vibe. I have no problem with fathers taking their daughters out for a special day as they near dating age and sharing with them how a young man should treat them (with respect, as an equal), but the whole idea of a father pledging to protect his daughter’s virginity and the language so often used at these events that reduces her to a piece of property…no thanks. I’m also not wild about purity jewelry; it’s meant to serve as a reminder, but I imagine it only impacts the sense of shame if a bad decision is made.

I don’t think that women should only wear skirts/dresses and never expose their shoulders. I don’t think that women need to have long hair. I don’t think that women should never wear make-up or jewelry. I don’t think that women need to cover their hair, as 1 Corinthians 11 needs to be understood within it’s context and the timeless principles removed from the static principles of time and place.(This is the practice of good interpretation and application).

Neither do I think that modesty of dress for women is all about men. (Sorry, guys). The “men as visual creatures” argument as been hyped to the point of ridiculousness. Yes, there is truth to it, but all to often this is used as a way of placing the responsibility for male sexual purity on the shoulders of women. I can’t get behind that. I won’t get behind that. Nothing in Scripture supports the idea. Men need to take responsibility for themselves.

So, why do I think that women should dress modestly? And what does that even mean?

The way a woman dresses reflects her sense of self. Every woman chooses what she wears, whether she claims to care about it or not. (In fact, “not caring” conveys a message about identity through dress). Clothes don’t just fall onto us haphazardly. We aren’t at their mercy. We make deliberate, even if occasionally hurried, even if sometimes detached, decisions. Pants. Skirt. Shorts. Heels. Flats. Flip-flops. T-shirt. Blouse.

My desire is that women see themselves as Christ sees them. I want to see myself through His eyes. From all that I have learned from Scripture and the impressions of the Spirit upon my soul, God sees women as beautiful, dignified and worthy. He desires that we navigate life in the knowledge of our royal status as His daughters.

And princesses? They don’t dress trashy.

Someone is going to object to my use of the word, but that’s my basic rule of modesty: Is it trashy? When women walk around with their breasts hanging out or their butt cheeks peeking out or their underwear making an appearance when it shouldn’t (intentionally; we’ve all had our moments when something slips), that says a lot. I’m not talking about what other people say about it. I’m talking about what she says about herself through her clothes.

Does a woman respect herself? Does she understand that she is more than a body? Is she so desperate for attention and affirmation that she’s putting herself on display? Those are the questions that matter, and they are answered less in words, more in actions. And the action of what clothes we choose shares our answers.

I love fashion. My closet is packed with clothes and shoes (almost exclusively from thrift stores, thank you very much). Modesty has nothing to do with eschewing color, cut and style. It has nothing to do with rejecting trends and being deliberately out of touch. It is not about being covered from the neck to the ankle.

Modesty is about understanding who we are. It is thanking God for every curve, every inch of skin, and recognizing when, where and how to share those curves and that skin. There are no hard and fast rules. A scoop-neck tank can be flattering on one woman while it causes another to share more information than is necessary. A pencil skirt can be great when paired with a drapey top. It becomes something else when paired with a cleavage-highlighting blouse.

This is because modesty isn’t really about the clothes, but how and why we wear them. Modesty is ultimately an attitude. One of its synonyms, interestingly, is unpretentious, which is defined as “not attempting to impress others with an appearance of greater importance, talent, or culture than is actually possessed.” If we really think about that definition, any system or understanding that deliberately rejects fashion and insists upon women being clad exclusively in long skirts and loose tops, or dresses, can actually be the opposite of modest. (It’s also legalism).

As I said before, there are no hard and fast rules. I have friends who dress very conservatively, and they do so out of personal conviction, which they don’t attempt to force on anyone else. I have friends who dress very fashionably, but this doesn’t mean they are lesser Christians than those who dress conservatively. Modesty is about the heart. It is about identity.

I could close this out here, but I don’t want men to think they’re off the hook, because they aren’t. Just as men cannot blame women for their sexual struggles, neither should they be (or claim to be) utterly clueless about what they wear or how they present themselves. It’s possible for men to wear trashy clothes. It’s also possible for men to get wrapped up in rules about what they wear. Everything that applies to women in terms of modesty applies to men.

All of this said: Clothing and style are areas that we cannot, repeat cannot, be judgmental about. We have no right to think less of someone because of her clothes. We don’t know what’s going on in her heart and mind, what motivates her choices. Everyone, regardless of how they dress, is made by God and bears His image. They deserve to be treated as such. No matter what. This means that nobody ever “asks for” any kind of abuse. Nobody ever “invites” or “wants” rape. Such claims are baseless and disgusting.

Modesty. It’s an attitude.

My journey to faith. (15)

Musing for a Monday

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com (2)

Gentle Reader,

A Contemplation in the Valley

“Just a closer walk with Thee,”
Is how the lyric goes
Yet I often wonder, Lord,
Why more ebbs than flows?

Mountain peaks and sun so bright
Last but a moment – then
Here comes another valley,
Racing ’round the bend

I do not understand
Why I must battle long
When others raise a toast, a harp,
And sing the joyous song

Could you not, Lord, teach me
In a field of ease?
Could I not be molded
Without this tug and tease?

Must my hair be knotted?
Must my face be stained?
Must I trudge through swamps
Made the worse with rain?

Must my hands be bloody?
Must my skin be bruised?
Must my clothes be tattered?
My aching joints abused?

The storm, it swirls around me,
The Enemy laughs with glee,
This war that I am waging –
I think You alone do see

And so if that be true, Lord,
Mind this beating that I take,
For if this is Your plan,
On this my life I stake:

I know not why the valley
Is my home down here
But I trust that You, O God,
Ever-hold me near

I trust that I don’t travel
This broken path alone
I trust that You are with me
No matter winds that moan

I trust that in this moment
With fight so fierce and pitched
You give me strength for every step
And all my wounds do stitch

I trust that somehow, God,
Made of one and three,
That this – You have ordained
For a closer walk with Thee

My journey to faith. (15)

Eshet Chayil

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com (2)

Gentle Reader,

I wrote this post for the Far East Broadcasting Company Gospel Blog, where it appeared on March 19, 2015. These words are for all women this Mother’s Day, whether you take the “mom” title through biology, a blended family, adoption or by being a comforting, strong presence in the life of a child.

Proverbs 31 haunts me. The gal in that chapter…she’s like an ever-smiling Superwoman. She makes all the crafts on Pinterest and she makes them well. All her food is locally sourced, organic, made from scratch. She exercises daily. She wields her smartphone calendar with precision, making sure her kids get to all their events on time (meaning fifteen minutes before they need to be there). She makes good business decisions. She has all the blanks of her Bible study workbook filled in. She’s always nice, always ready to listen, always ready to open her home.

Her hair is always perfect and she probably never gets a zit.

She is overwhelming.

She is irritating.

How can I possibly be her? How can I possibly live up to this impossible standard?

Honestly? I kind of want to hit her.

I know that this chapter of Scripture is supposed to be encouraging. It’s supposed to teach me something. God is never about hitting us across the face, making us feel like we can never get anything right. He didn’t give us His Word to make us feel like failures. He draws us to Him, wipes the tears from our eyes and speaks life to our souls.

So why does Proverbs 31 have to exist?

There are several different interpretations of this passage. Some commentators take the words at face-value, seeing them as genuine praise for a real, flesh-and-blood woman. Others see this as an idealized allegory, referring to the Shekinah glory of God that dwelt in the holiest place of the Temple, the Sabbath day, the teaching of the Torah, wisdom, or the soul of each person. I am not smart enough to plumb the depths of each of these views, though all certainly have value. Personally, I tend to side with those who see the passage as being a blend of Proverbs’ praise of wisdom and continual warnings to men against immoral women. Essentially, these words stand as a capstone; pursue God’s wisdom and, if you’re a man reading this, pursue a woman who’s pursuing God.

This point is where I begin to unravel the Superwoman image. This is where I begin to understand.

Across the spectrum, each commentator hones in on the fact that Proverbs 31:10-31 stands as an acrostic poem, each verse beginning with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet.

It starts with a question.

Who can find an eshet chayil?

Who can find a woman of valor?

Sisters, let that settle on you.

Proverbs 31 isn’t about throwing the perfect party with the perfect food with the perfect decorations with the perfectly clean house with the perfectly managed money with the perfect skin and the perfect hair and the perfect outfit.

This is about bravery. Capability. Triumph. Courage. Strength.

This is about a woman who lives life, wherever it takes her, fully reliant upon the Lord. She “laughs without fear of the future” (vs. 25) because she knows Who goes before her. She knows Who holds time itself in His hands. She vacuums the floor her little ones crawl on because she knows Who has placed her in that time, that place, that season. She works diligently in that cubicle because she knows Who has called her to that job, Who has called her to live out the Great Commission in that context. She strokes the brow of a loved one, deep in the throes of illness, with grace in her hands. She covers the night watches in prayer, her anxiety moving her to fall before the throne of Holy God.

She is the woman stricken with cancer who praises the Lord. She is the barren woman who stretches out her arms to embrace all the children who cross her path. She is the woman battling depression with the Word of truth. She is the woman who gave herself away to many men, redeemed in virtue, brought to wholeness by Christ. She is the woman caught in desperation who cries out, “Save me, God!”

She is the woman who faces each frightening, amazing, lopsided, overwhelming, joyful, deep, boring, unforeseen moment on her knees, groaning in prayer. Sword of the Spirit drawn. Eyes alight with holy fire. Determined to see this thing through.

Sisters, Proverbs 31 is not some unattainable vision of perfection.

Proverbs 31 is about battle. Is is about choosing to completely trust God, to do whatever the work of the moment is, knowing that He blesses both the small things and the large things. The tiny steps and the big steps. The leaps across puddles and the leaps across oceans.

She is a fierce woman because she is lost in a fierce God.

She is you, every time you trust. Every time you ask for wisdom, for faith, for love. Every time you obey.

Eshet chayil.

Woman of valor.

My journey to faith. (15)