Friday, May 31, 2013

Modesty and the Immodest Culture

In looking at modesty I'm beginning to look more and more to our culture.  It seems rather obvious, there would be no concept of "modesty" without culture. Modesty is the tango of who we are on the inside, and who we're perceived as.  It's communication, but it's also assimilation.  It's not just how you want others to see you, it’s how you see them and what you believe they will think of your appearance.  This "how you see them," is an interesting hidden factor.  How do we see the people looking at us? 

 Are you a conservative, to whom I will rebel? A progressive who will respect me for my choices? Are you a man, for which I'm afraid--or ashamed--or causing to "stumble."  I'm not saying any or all of it is okay.  With "perception" we need values and beliefs that then shape what we see into the landscape we navigate.  I believe X about how men should be held accountable, I believe Y about what I should wear in regards to other women, and I believe Z about pushing boundaries.  In a lot of this I see a sliding scale of just how much we want to push certain extremes.  The battles we choose to fight matter just as much as why we fight them.

 Reality and vision.  With a lot of feminism we run into a major divide between what is and what should be.  In part I think this has to do with the feminist movement being the starting place for feminist theory.  When talking about feminism, more than any other movement, justice and advocacy is interchangeable to the metaphysical theory.  I've always found this to be impossibly frustrating.  We need Justice, but part of theory is the “open lab” volatility, the "anything is possible," and thinking openly in general, is meant to be about extremes.  This is where communication lines turn very quickly to battle lines because the movement and the philosophy are so interconnected.  For modesty I wish we could take a step back.  To define theory from movement, because extremes and visions are not the same as the nitty-gritty of pragmatism and policy and they shouldn't have to be.  This where we get a lot of confusion about having the “right” to do something and having the “safety” to use the right.  You may have the right to wear whatever you want.  As a free person with autonomy and "inalienable rights" you should, but in going on vacation to the middle-east it's probably a good idea to cover up.  I don’t think that interacting knowledgeably within your culture means recanting a right to act any other way.

Here I'm brought back to interaction with culture and the inevitable questions of where we draw the line.  There are more examples in life where this kind of line drawing is in practice while in constant change.  Children are raised by parents freely with their own unique values, but in abuse children are protected by the state (we at least attempt this).  The state exerts power, but is often reimagined by the people in revolution or political change when the government no longer does its job or exerts too much power.  This ebb and flow of control over one to the other.  The feminist/individualist and the cultural/communitarian, giving and taking, each bring back the other. 

Norms.  Norms have never ceased to fascinate me.  Norms are so "definite" but always changing.  Norms say a lot about us.  Norms are not what is normal, but what we want to be "normal," and what we want to be normal says volumes about how we see the world.   It sounds a little roundabout but here's the rub, knowing what our intentions and feelings are about “normal” speak to why and how we judge others.  A massive part of our culture is centered on Androcentrism or "male normativity."  That boys are the base line and everything else is an anomaly.  It's an unfortunate facet of our language that "man" is synonymous with "human" and "woman" is man+"wo." 

Man is normal, wo+man is the oddity.  

Note it’s not woman as the norm and man-"wo."  This gets even more evident with sexual temptation when men are taught that only they have sex drives and women are basically sexy warm bodies.  Doing so creates isolation for both sexes.  Both with men being told that they are evil monsters who think terrible things about women and women are never taught to understand about their sex-drive.  In a lot of cases I think more women struggle with the same “lust” that men do but are never taught to label their thoughts as such.  (As to what lust is let’s table that conversation for now.)

I recently had a pastor friend of mine explain how often she and other women pastors had been reprimanded for being too "provocative" while preaching.  One even being told by a congregant, "your hair was so pretty I couldn't hear a word you said."  As you can imagine this was not a very encouraging feedback about a sermon.  Again, I have to point the finger to androcentrisim.  Many men have never had to deal with sexual attraction to their pastors, something women have had to work through for as long as there have been good looking gents in the pulpit.  Finding a "spiritual" leader attractive feels wrong and strange because sex is so shamed within male Christian culture.  Furthermore spirituality is so separated from sexuality the interaction of the two feels like sacrilege.
This is where the modesty question gets interesting.  Deconstructing androcentrisim is the first step to understanding where mutual responsibility lies.  True mutuality is equal responsibility to the culture we participate in.  As people interacting in a world together, there is a give and take to be had.  What is normative (what we want to be normal) and what is self-centric is not mutual.  But beyond that is a healthy admittance that how we dress effects the opinions and the spirituality of others WHILE giving the liberty, rights, and safety back to those who wear the clothes.

This is modesty, and this is only the beginning of the conversation.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Finding Friday

I hate certainty.

There, I finally said it.

 I hate it because of how easily it so easily ceases to exist, no matter how many hopes you pin upon it.  No more could you sew your shadow to your feet can you keep your certainty.  None the less it must exist.  Something is there.  You certainty is what you think it is.

What you think and what is, creates the divide.  Don't worry, I hate all kinds of certainty.  The person in my class who asserts that homeschooling ill prepares people for college--tell it to my GPA lady!--to the Christian who finds it necessary to testify and D-clare on facebook that, "I know where I am going because my Jesus lives," (hallelujahs removed for ease of reading.)  I have a problem with it.  I have a problem with certainty because of the times that it isn't true.  The times that I ace a paper in college, and "your Jesus," doesn't quite add up.  I really have no problem with Jesus, just "your-Jesus,"  the guy who 'causes' tornadoes because of sin (Piper-Jesus), which doesn't even make sense if you think of His lost investment in killing people He died for in an attempt to save.  I mean, if you went through all that agony for a person, wouldn't you want them to live as long as possible to maximize the chance of salvation?

A pastor once told me, that if anyone I knew was still going to hell, I was a bad Christian.  But honestly, if I don't love someone who is going to hell, I probably have my head in my ass the sand.

I'm sitting in a coffee shop on a rainy Portland summer day, bluegrass playing.  Its the song of air from a man's deep within his lungs.  Sorrow.  Sorrow is the warm rug of certainty pulled from your feet.  The breath to laugh torn from your chest leaving that song of your gut and agony.  But Sorrow knows faith.  Sorrow's eyes are faith, the sight without certainty. Its a song of the dust and the people who come from it.  The song of the farmer who can only wait for rain.  The song of droughts and storms without reasons, the morning after battle, the words spoken after death.  Bluegrass, Sorrow, laughs at certainty.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

God of the Learning Curve.

I have never been more torn than where I stand now.  I feel like so much of my past and current life experience has lead me to a point of just being stuck in the middle.  I’m stuck, in so many was, a theological abyss. I can now resolutely say that there is an in-between between a Emergent apathy and fundamental hypocrisy, because it looks like me.  I sitting on the bus stop of an endless Sunday afternoon, where the busses only come once an hour and I still can’t decide to take the 9 across Powell and up 82nd, or to take the 19 down the city side and down Holgate.  I’m stuck. 

I’m sitting in a coffee shop rocking Billy Holiday and alike.  I’m drinking coffee, pounding 1.1 miles of pavement twice a day to one of the most secular inner cities in the U.S. To drink a cup of education I have worked my hands to the bone just to taste.  I wrote a paper in favor of legalized same-sex marriage, then defended deontology in a philosophy class—single handedly mind you!  I made friends with a lesbian, and critiqued Tony the beat-poet.

I’m in the middle, because at this finite point in life, I’m too liberal for a conservative, and too conservative for a liberal.  I’m to “wishy-washy” for a fundamentalist, and far too full of conviction for comfort.  I am stretched and tried and tying.

In a lot of ways God and I haven’t been “okay” in years.  I’m drinking through a fire-hose and in awe of the silence in my life.  The days dawning, the suns setting, the city in beat that I pound on ward.  The notes I keep dating further and further into the New Year—now an old year.  Life is passing, and I don’t know what is happening.  I’m numb and yet sensitive to everything, desperate to start saying whatever it is that I feel for the undefined 'it.'

I’m waiting.  Waiting the discipline, waiting the action, waiting the scream—cry—laughter. I am waiting.

And He is moving.

He is excited.  He is in the waiting, the building, the tension of earth like a tectonic plate He is waiting. Waiting like an earth quake, which is anything but motionless, He is building.  He is screaming.  He is laughing.  He is crying.

Christianity was built in the gap.  We do Christianity when we live while dead. It is the life we have until life in death.  Christianity was breed for the in-between.  We are not well in the comfortable ivory towers—we are lighthouses, castles of storms not sunny days of sheltered understanding.  We are a religion of care, of threat and rocky shores, not the calm harbor of fad relativity, of fundamental truths ignorance’s that get easier and easier to swallow.  We are at our best when the waves are too big to see the rocks of our foundations, too busy to brew tea and merely watch the sunset, too tired to sit down.  We are illuminated in storms and useless in pleasant weather.

And in all of this demand and daring is apathy, and summer days in coffee shops, and Saturdays spent sleeping in and making pancakes

and it’s ok
and its good
and it’s God

Friday, May 10, 2013

Look at my eyes.

I never knew how many faces I averted until I was challenged.  To look into others eyes.  Why can I ask a stranger in town what the time is, while another cannot?—I am not homeless.  What do we do with the so called “decent” people on the street?  To walk, to pass, to nod, we acknowledge existence.  We smile, because the sun is shining. We are courteous on the bus. 
We refuse to see other eyes.
The street kids with broken antidotes written on card board,
old men making friends at bus stops,
black men walking alone with you on an empty sidewalk.
                Crazy how I did this.  It’s not self-defense in the safety of the crowds of the city.  I am safe among the morning foot traffic.  I’m not about to get mugged in my classroom’s halls.  I hate the binary of privilege because we all have some privileges and we don't have other privileges, and we all get a say in the way the world will work.  I hate that I can’t talk about something that I am a part of, while I'm thrust into being as speaker ‘my kind’ in other instances.  In the age of communication we so easily become nebulous to other perspectives all in the name of privilege.  I am white, I am woman, I am Christian, I am married, I am student, I am INTJ, I am writing this now.
So smile at the person you normally wouldn’t
and burn with the shame of their surprise.
Their surprise,
that you smiled. You acknowledged. They were known.