Wednesday, September 18, 2013

On Modesty Wars and Shirtless Guys

So there was this hullabaloo on the internet circles that I frequent, with a mother of a bunch of boys writing (somewhat in a huff) to teenage girls about why they should be more modest. And then this led to a firestorm of accusations of hypocrisy, because she illustrated the post with family beach pictures, which had her sons shirtless.
And the modesty wars went full force etc etc.

So. That being said, I was thinking about this. And I was reflecting on my perceptions on modesty and shirtless guys and all that as a teenage (and college age) single girl.

First off, everyone is different. But I suspect, on average, guys are much more vulnerable to girls showing more skin then on average, girls are to guys showing more skin. Ofcourse there are lots of people who don't fall into the stereotype I just made (girls who struggle with visuals, guys to whom its no big deal). But if there were bellcurves on this, I suspect the center of the guys' bellcurve would be a lot more shifted to the "tempted by visuals" then the center of the girl's bell curve.

Going by my extremely empirical and scientific method of myself, and based on TV advertising, and TV shows made for a target audience, it seems that on average, girls respond more to other things (guy cuddling puppies, big dark eyes, adoring you, "I understand", etc...).

Now, there are the averages. (Why I think the mom probably didn't think of it) But real people make up the tails on the bell curves. And the struggles of the under-represented still matter (Why the mom should have thought of it.)

So then I reflected on how did I, as a single girl between the ages of 13-21, feel about guys not wearing their shirts in public?**

I always felt kind of this awkward and painful jolt of involuntary pity, like they were trying really really hard to prove something. And it just hurt.
It had nothing to do if they were ripped or not. It had everything to do with this feeling of desperation to impress that reeked of painful insecurity.*  Because, I mean, would Aragorn son of Arathorn, or Luke Skywalker, or Steve Rogers ever take off his shirt near girls, so he could show off his muscles?

So, yeah.

Anyways, while I think I can see both sides of this debate, the one side afraid that Christians will fall off the string-bikini-trashy-dressing in an attempt to be culturally relevant or cute, or just plain be the frog that boiled to death. The other side sees Christians falling off the other side of the horse, with burkha's and a blame-the-woman mentality leading to blaming rape victims etc.

Both sides have certain things right. Modesty wars are never just about one gender. We have a duty not to lead others into sin, but we also have a duty not to be led into sin.

I think the biggest danger in the Modesty Wars, is to let the fear that the one duty will be minimized, allow us to minimize the duty we think less important.

That is, by insisting girls should be modest, we can implicitly send the message that guys can't help themselves, and that immodest girls are open range (an attitude one sees in many Muslim countries).

Or, by insisting that guys should be responsible for controlling themselves and their thoughts, that girls should be allowed to wear whatever the heck they want. Freedom in Christ and all that.

But we musn't minimize either. We must maximize both duties, not to lead and not be led, into sin.

As women, we musn't let our desires to be pretty or true to our own sense of style, or fit in with other girls, supersede compassion for the weaker brother who is struggling. Or say that if he has issues with my style, its his problem. Because it's just not kind. On the one hand, it's me-me-me and the other, it's someone else.

As women raising sons in this screwed up world, we must teach them that they stand accountable to God for their thoughts and actions, and they must see a daughter of God in every girl, no matter how she's dressed or what she does. Yes, they've got hormones, and God wired certain things in us to ensure the propagation of the human race, but they are called to something higher than animal instincts, to valor, and courage, and kindness, and seeing people with God's eyes.

The biggest fear I have for the Modesty Wars, is that in seeking to attack hypocrisy or legalism, we will minimize our own sins (of lust, or of selfish immodesty). Minimizing sin is the root of so much screwed-up-ness in the world. We have to name it for what it is, if we are to be healed from it.

So, in the thick of these Modesty Wars, let us never forget that we are called to emphasize both duties, the duty to not lead others into sin, and the duty not to be led into sin. And may we never seek to minimize our sin by blaming it on the other sex, or someone else.

That was, after all, the first sin after the fall.

*I'm not even counting the guys that were showing off without they spent hours working on, tanning, and adoring their own muscles...Narcissistic..  So. Not. Attractive. Echo died)

**I realized, the only time as a teenager that the act of a man taking off his shirt in public impressed me, was when I had a head concussion and was bleeding heavily, and this pot-bellied middle aged guy was freaking out and gave me his shirt to stop the blood while he was calling my mom. It was precisely because he was thinking so little of himself, that he gave me his shirt.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Of Zerg and Protoss: Or, Why Jesus Came to Die

So today in church, we were singing about how Jesus died for us. How He paid it all, how sin had left a crimson stain, and He washed it white as snow.

And I was thinking about StarCraft 1 and Brood War, how Jim's friend Sarah gets infested and turned into a Zerg queen. And in StarCraft 2: Wings of Liberty, how Jim cares so much more about Sarah being unzerged, than if he dies in the attempt.
What Zerg are like...what Jim had to fight on their homeworld, Char

 How he fights his way into the mouth of Hell (Char) and faces swarms of Zerg, faces Zerged Sarah (Queen of Blades) mocking him how she's going to kill/infest him, all for the slimmest crazy chance that she might be uninfested, made her true self again.
Sarah Kerrigan, Zerged, or "Queen of Blades"

And how in the antithetical (and shoddy) sequel StarCraft 2: Heart of the Swarm, all of a sudden zerg-infestation is supposed to be fine (sweeping the 8 billion deaths, atrocities, and people going mad from horror under the rug) and dandy, and ol' judgmental Jim just has to learn to embrace the Zerg or he's not being nice to Sarah.That he has to accept her Zerged self, or he's rejecting her.

And I was muttering to myself, of how antithetical Heart of the Swarm was to Wings of Liberty (and StarCraft 1 and Brood War...).
How in Wings of Liberty, Jim absolutely hates the Zerg, how he hates what Sarah has done as Queen of Blades (he grieves over the 8 billion people she killed, plus some of his friends), and yet, he loves Sarah. He carries around her picture of her before she was Zerged, and throws his life away on the slimmest unproven glimmer of a chance, that she can be purified, and made herself again.

And I was thinking, how the refusal to see a distinction between the sin/disease and the person/true self/soul, is a very common malady in our culture. The example that came to mind, is how gay friends tell you that in not accepting their lifestyle, you aren't accepting them. To condemn their lifestyle, is to be hateful, is to be personally reject them. If you love them, the only option is to accept homosexuality as fine and say nothing's wrong. Even if you know it's hurting them.

And then, as we sang how Jesus died to save us from our sins, it hit me.

Homosexuality is not something I struggle with, and so it seemed so clear to me how hating the sin is not hating the person who struggles with it.
But what about the multitude of my own sins? I minimize them. I think its not such a big deal. I resent God for insisting my sin has such colossal magnitude, for being so demanding in setting such a high price for their forgiveness, but hey, at least He was willing to pay for it. Um, Okay God, I guess my sin deserved death and hell and all. Whatever you want, name the price. At least I'm off the hook now, with your crucifixion and all....

I don't really see my sins for the horror of what they truly are.

When we say "Jesus died to save us from God's eternal punishment of Hell" or "Jesus died to satisfy the wrath of God" we miss the point, we only see the half, and that the lesser half.

It is infinitely preferable to be nuked by the quarantining Protoss (they purge infected worlds), than to be infested by Zerg.

The purging Protoss, they try to quarantine the Zerg virus

The first stages of Zerg infestation

 Jesus didn't so much come to make sure the mean ol' Protoss don't nuke us. He came to save us from Zergness. From infestation. From sin. 

 I get that Zerg infestation is horrific. It makes my soul shudder. Not so much for what they look like---they get mutated more and more into monsters--- but for what they do while infested---slaves to obeying the Overmind/Queen of Blades, killing and destroying life, infecting other humans.

Sin (my sin!) is like Zerg Infestation. Its really that gross. That soul eating. That mind-twisting. That diabolical. That horrific. And only Jesus, only God, really sees it to the depth of what it is, sees and feels the horror of what it is. Knows what it is, as only his uninfected eyes can truly see.

First, He made Himself unpopular, by telling us we got issues.

 I like being Zerg. You've got a problem with that?! (Kerrigan, zerged, Brood War)

And Jesus came here. To our world, to people like us, who didn't think there was that much of a problem with it, Isn't God a bit harsh in the Law, meting out death for bowing to a little idol, alternate sexual choices, cheating on your wife, and hitting your Dad? Hey Jesus, why are you making such a big deal with lust and money and all? And why are you getting rid of easy divorce?! If this is how strict you're gonna be, its better not to get married...If my hand causes me to sin, cut it off?!? Sheesh. Jesus, you're so...high-strung about all this.

And he felt the abomination of it all as only the Protoss feel the horror of the Zerg-infestation, as only one with such clear uninfected, all knowing, pure eyes could see it. He saw it, he felt it, for what it was.

And He took that sickness, that makes his soul shudder in horror and wrath....

And He took it on Himself.

He who knew no sin, became sin for us.
He bore our transgressions.
Took the unclean thing upon Himself, bearing the full weight of its horror, and then died as the sacrifice.

So that His blood could un-Zerg us.

So that we could be our true selves again. The way He meant for us to be.

Sarah Kerrigan's true self, Jim's picture.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Till Death Do Us Part...or Not. The Affair Clause, True Love, and Christian Marriage

What is marriage? Is it a contract, a mutual agreement to mutual benefit? A finding of one's other half, one's soulmate, the love of one's life?

I was scarred for life, watching "Spanglish" as a 14 yr old. Its a story about an immigrant from Mexico, who comes to nanny for a wealthy American family (2 kids and a grandma, Dad is a chef, Mom is obsessed with health and exercise).

Never show this at some self-proclaimed "Youth Retreat."
Trust me, it will just scar the kids....
The Dad is frustrated with the Mom's constant nagging of the kids to lose weight, her obsessions, her insensitivity to her kids, and her general selfishness.
In the course of the movie, the Dad starts having feelings for the nanny who lovingly takes care of his kids.
 He even complains to the nanny about his wife. But what am I saying? Ofcourse it was all so sweet and nice and wistful, because goshdarnit, he just didn't have grounds to divorce his selfish wife.

(Sidenote, so everything in me was screaming here, a somewhat clueless foreign single-mom poor working woman struggling with English and her employer...yeah definitely a power differential there...But even sweeping that under the rug, it stinks. And here's why.)

Then his wife had an affair, and amid sadness....oh the glee. I felt it, the subtle glee. The 'get out of jail free' card. The freedom to now pursue that true love of your life....

It was the glee that disturbed me. Even if it were subtle and small amid crushing grief (I really can't remember what the ratios were, as I was in and out at that point, it was so bad). Even the smallest amount of relief, relief that now you have reason to love someone else (someone a lot kinder and sweeter and nicer)---mixed in whatever sorrow or betrayal he felt, totally smelled 'off'. Something was horribly, horribly wrong.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable and does not count up wrongdoing, it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.   

I never really got the second part. The first part made sense "does not count up wrongdoing", we all keep lists in our minds, of what someone's done to hurt us. Holding on to it in pain or wrath. But why would we rejoice at being hurt? Here is an example, because it finally gives us the right to say "Alright, this really was it, you crossed the big red line, I'm out"

So that glee was disturbing. Really disturbing. But even taking that glee out, there still is more wrong with this.

It didn't hit home to me until watching an episode of Downtown Abbey.
Anna and Mr. Bates, the happy couple

Mr. Bates has an estranged marriage to Vera, a woman who the show assures us, has not been faithful to him. And then there's pretty little sensible Anna.
And they fall in love!
And his first wife stank anyway, plus she's estranged anyhow.
And then Mr. Bates and Anna get engaged!
And his first wife who stank anyhow kills herself. Oh no! Now everyone thinks Mr. Bates did it? And Anna, in a heroic act of love, marries him just before he's jailed, so that she can be his next of kin at the trial. And they have a quick little wedding, in which she vows to love him forever till death do them part. And they wake up happily after their wedding night, in love. And then he gets hauled off to jail.
I think we are all supposed to be thinking how sweet it is, and about how unconditionally she loves him and all.

I was roaring mad. Ok, here, no glee. But still.

Vera may have cheated on him, and been a total flake, and killed herself. But she was still his wife. And he's happily got engaged to the cuter, nicer, moral-er, kinder girl. And when she killed herself, now a great barrier has thrown itself against True Love, but True Love shall prevail.

Till death do us part.

Unless you screw up and cheat on me, then I'm out.


I've always hated how unpoetically the world explained marriage.
A contract of mutual benefit, of mutual emotional feedback (I'm in love with you, you're in love with me), of financial, sexual, friendship benefit. The anti-marriage types mocked it for that.

You say its so holy and special, but really, its all a deal. He gives her social status/income/backrubs, she gives him sex/babies/clean house/cute armcandy.

No no! (Some) Feminists cry, they are equals now, the patrimony has passed. They balance things, with their 2 careers and their mutual respect and mutual sexual benefit. It's so mutual and rational and chosen!

But that's still a contract. A better organized one, but still, its a contract.  My end of the deal, your end of the deal. You hold up your end, I'll hold up mine. We both benefit.

No no! The romantics cry, they are IN LOVE. They love each other. Its love that is so important, and beautiful, and makes the world work. Love will climb the highest mountain. Walk 10,000  miles to be the man who falls down at your door....

But its still a contract (albeit an implicit one). They're in love. Its easy to sacrifice for someone you are in love with. In love-ness passes. I have heard women say "I had to leave x, we weren't in love anymore".  To still maintain the now-dead union would be 'living a lie'. So it still is about give and take, profit and loss. He's in love with her, she's in love with him. If one side dries up, we either get romantic comedies about rekindling the fire (and thus justify the union) or we get a divorce, and find a new person the real 'love of your life' that kindles the right emotions, the true soul-mate whom you were really meant to be with forever....

If marriage is a contract, a contract where each person supplies their bit, and if the other party doesn't cut it as promised, well its over. And we are free to look for the real love of our lives...

It boils down to profit and loss. You give your bit, I'll give mine. Marriage may talk about love, but it's really love for self. If self isn't loved right by the other, than the other is toast. Love is selfish, is Darwinian, is about propagation of the genes and ego-stroking. Its all about feeling fulfilled, getting your half of the pie. Its no better than cohabiting or anything else that people want. Its a social construct.


We say, its not just about getting your half of the pie. It's about dying to yourself. It's about God making two one flesh. It's about God using this other person to refine and purify you and make you holy. It's sacramental. It's till death do us part. It's about being companions on the road to the New Jerusalem. Its holy, its beautiful, its something big and irrevocable and ordained by God. We have our wedding services, with Scripture readings and prayers and eternal vows before God, swearing before witnesses to love "Till death do us part."

But then there's divorce.

I have heard some Christians say that a husband's refusal to get a job qualifies as "financial abandonment" and the wife is free to get a divorce and remarry. I have heard some Christians argue that if a husband looks at porn, his wife is free to divorce and remarry. I have heard some Christians argue, that if we look back and realize that one of the parties didn't REALLY mean it, then we are free to say the marriage never happened, and divorce and remarry....

But I'm going to put those all aside for now, as the empty justifications that they are.

What about the 'affair clause', the one exception in the New Testament? I have yet to meet a church that denied the validity of that escape hatch, that loophole.

Adultery is a betrayal of the deepest kind. I am not at all surprised it often ends in vengeful spouses and murder. I totally get that.

 And I can see a case made for separation.

But for remarriage? The nevermind-it-doesn't-count-anymore, he's had sex with someone else, feel free to find a better man to marry, to love, and to have sex with....

And Christian marriage can be tainted. It still has such higher standards than the world's definition of marriage. She still has to love him if he's insane or poor or immature, and she no longer has feelings for him. But then, it's still a contract. If one party commits sexual sin, then it dissolves. Feel free to move on. It doesn't count anymore.
The affair clause boils down to "don't worry, he had grounds for a divorce", he had every right to move on. We can be happy that Mr Bates and Anna found true love.

If we're being honest with ourselves, we should then swear "Till death (or adultery) do us part"....

Because swearing "till death do us part", swearing the irrevocable promise of self sacrificial love is saying marriage is more than a contract. It's saying marriage is something holy and irrevocable and permanent. But with the affair clause, its only irrevocable and permanent if you hold up your end of the deal (not committing adultery). If the other breaks it, then it dissolves, you 'have a right' to move on with someone else, its over.

Yes, Matthew 5 is in the Bible.
“It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

But so is Ephesians 5.
 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.

The Bible tells a tale, of how a Holy God loved an unholy people. He saved them, he purified them, put them in a land flowing with milk and honey. And he made a covenant with them. A contract. They were to have no other gods, and He was to be their God. They would be His people, and He would be their God.
And they betrayed him. And they went after other gods. And they forgot Him, wanted nothing to do with Him. And they sacrificed their sons and daughters to demons.
They had broken the covenant. They had dissolved the contract. And now, all that was left was the punishment they were due.
And He came. He came to the land He had given them. And found his lost Bride, who had betrayed Him. And He took her place, he took the punishment. And died for her.
And He bound himself to her in a new covenant, a covenant sealed with His blood. And he carries her and purifies her, till the day that he brings her home, clean, pure, spotless of all her betrayals, holy and beautiful at the great wedding feast of the Lamb.

That is how Christ loved the church. That is how we are to love one another. That is what marriage is was designed to mirror, this great and holy mystery of Christ's love for His bride.