Thursday, June 20, 2013

Thomas, called Didymus

Better known as doubting Thomas, he's gone down in history with infamy, three years of following Jesus, walking covered in his dust so close behind, all erased by a moment of doubt. But I wonder if his sin is not the one we think it is. Doubting Thomas, cold, analytic, demanding proof, the scars and living skin to touch before he could believe. The ultimate skeptic.
But what if that was not his sin?
Three years. His Savior, friend, the man he'd left everything to follow, the man who gave meaning to his life, ripped away.
How often, when grieving, is cold rationality our first recourse? If we do run to rationality, isn't it a kind of refugee? Fleeing to unfeeling scientific sterility of emotion to numb pain, to hide from further hurt?
Because hope always, always, is a risk. To long for anything is to open oneself to disappointment--and the deeper and more desperate the hope the more horrific the hurt.
I doubt that Thomas was a doubter--that was not his sin. He was a man broken and terrified. Terrified to believe the joy in the other disciples' eyes. After believing Jesus was Messiah, son of God, God himself made man, and then the cross, what was Thomas to believe but that God was dead? And that left nothing but darkness, a world of chaos. Hope offered an escape from that prison camp world, but to hope only to have the door slammed again in his face, surely what would kill him.
I have a sin of fear. Maybe that was his sin.
But is it any wonder he smothered hope? The only thing left that could hurt him worse than he'd already been wounded?
Who are we to cast stones? What miracles do we miss because we will not open our hearts to the hurt that hope risks? We dream small, puny dreams, live small, puny lives because the bigger the dream the greater the risk and too often we are cowards. Hoping hurts. So we smother it to shield ourselves.
What was it Jesus said to Thomas when he'd touched his scars? Because you have seen me, you believe; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.
Isn't that us? We have a chance to be those who have not seen, but believe. In a world that can still seem like a prison camp, we have a chance to hope for more, and in hoping, fight to create. It's not as much a matter of overcoming intellectual skepticism as emotional terror--fear we'll be hurt, fear we'll fight for nothing. We are cowards afraid to believe in redemption, but only by believing do we experience it.
We need to hold on hope, risk the hurt it taunts, and believe in the redemption that is in the hands of the scarred Savior we cannot see.
I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms. -Ephesians 1:18-20 

Monday, June 3, 2013

taking boys out of the equation

We need to take boys out of the equation, the discourse of modesty and sexual purity directed at girls in the church. The books, the survey's of teen guys about what was attractive or "tempting" to them, the lectures and seminars, blog posts and even the messages teen girls sent each other, peer-to-peer, the "modest is hottest" culture, they all hinted at it: the objective of being modest was to guard the purity of our brothers in Christ. Oh, and to honor God.
The whole framing of the modesty issue left me feeling that way--that guys, not God, were the focus. Too much of the conversation was dominated by protecting our  brothers' purity, making their battle with lust easier and not being a "stumbling block." The issues this spawns are numerous,  not the least being the fact that it sexually objectifies the female body as surely as the hyper-sexualized "wordly" attitudes; can lead to eating disorders and self harm, entirely ignores the fact that women can also lust (shocker) and, taken to the extreme, burdens women with the weight of male responsibility, holding women and their bodies accountable for the thought life of men.
In my life, I was blessed to have men who didn't surrender their accountability and foist it on me, but rather approached lust as a sin issue/spiritual battle that I could be instrumental in making easier for them. I'm grateful for this, and beyond the "Christianese" I genuinely cared about the young men in my life, and understanding each other as a soul in love with God made them my brothers in a very deep, real sense. Sacrificing some cute outfits to help them focus on God and not my boobs during youth group was something I could cheerfully do. In the years since, I've heard one of my closest guy friends from high school thank the girls in our circle of friends for how we dressed, and said that it was a blessing in his life. He thanked us for learning about God and life and girls from our friendships, and it was beautiful to hear.
It was especially life-giving to hear because there was frustration and hurt in my heart, remnants of the modesty-culture and discourse. Being a Youngmann girl, I finished developing at the age of 12, which meant I'd been on the frustrating search to "dress modestly" from a very young age. Frustrations range from: finding a bathing suit that is a) not a bikini, and b) not disgusting, I found-this-in-my-grandma's-closet-esque, to internalizing the "modest is hottest" message so that modesty, ironically, became just another way to attract guys, to only be disillusioned, frustrated and fed-up when the "righteous" young men we were making all these sacrifices for didn't seem to notice, and instead of appreciating our virtue chased after all the bikini-clad girls. (note: this is not meant to be shaming for people who make other clothing choices, this was the frustration of a 12 year old too early burdened with the mixed messages of a confusing conservative idealogy).
By the age of 13, before I could even articulate it, I was frustrated and fed-up with the fact that modesty culture casts women as temptresses and men as animals. This all came to a head one day when  I had to reject yet another adorable outfit because the skirt passed the arm test (length longer than the tips of your fingers) but not by enough to be truly modest. I proceeded to have a hissy-fit.
I started throwing the adorable too-short skirt repeatedly at the ground, with all the violence I could muster. "I am SICK of it! I'll never get to wear these AWESOME outfits that I look AWESOME in, and no one will ever know how AWESOME I can look because teen guys are gross, lusting animals!"
You get the picture.
My central conclusion was, and is, that guys aren't worth it. Not worth the bother, the headache, the lie that a woman's body is sinful, should be hidden...the heartache.
But that day as a frustrated girl, barely a teen, throwing a fit, I realized what has defined my understanding of modestly ever since: It wasn't about guys or for guys, and it never had been.
I asked myself, who are you doing this for? The answer was, God, always.
Modesty is something I choose, something I want to always remain committed to because God has called me to it and I want to obey. Because it is my spiritual, intimate act of worship to the only guy who is worth it, Jesus. Because the Bible urges "brothers and sisters, in view of God's mercy, offer your bodies as a living sacrifice to God--this is your true and proper worship." (NIV, 2009) Romans 12:1. It is between me and God. It is worship, it is an expression of my spiritual, independent choice, it is an act of love for the God I love. It builds spiritual muscles as I submit my day-to-day choices to God, as I develop discernment, and if my clothing choice is right between my spirit and the Holy Spirit, then I have done my duty and what goes on in someone else's mind is simply not my issue.
I had to take boys out of the equation for modesty to be something other than a thankless, guilt-ridden burden. If men are blessed by modesty, that is wonderful and I am glad, but that is a side effect, a perk to personally honoring God, not the end goal. It's a perk that he planned, I am sure, but the goal is God, not the mental state of our brothers in Christ, however much we love them. Modesty is an act of worship, and the object of worship in the modesty discourse in the Christian community needs to be reinstated as God. Otherwise we end up worshiping failed human beings, men and boys whose minds we can never control, and who we should not uplift as idols or denigrate as animals.We end with broken, burdened women and shame-filled hearts for beauty that should be, is, a joy.
Let's worship the one who is worthy.