When the church hates “Immodest Women”

I’ve been thinking for a little while about this modesty thing, and this week in particular I’ve finally been able to pin-point the reasons why discussing it in church can be so tiresome and hurtful. In my eyes, the church has become a place in which anyone who dresses immodestly is separated as an evil entity worthy of scorn, shame and disrespect. Last week, I saw a presentation about modesty, during which several photos  of Meagan Good were shown for the church to gasp at and gossip about her marriage and character. I looked around the room and felt embarrassed for everyone. Since when was sharing photos of another woman a Christ-like way to discuss modesty, when the woman in question isn’t even there to defend herself? Back in school, misogynist boys used to do similar: they liked sharing photos and videos of women to each other via their phones, all the while crying “slut! Hoe!”. How was everyone’s behaviour that night much different?

I’m genuinely perplexed. If someone had an alcohol problem, the response would be different. When people speak about their lust/pornography/masturbation issues, there’s much sympathy and support (maybe because it’s normally men who speak out about these? People expect men to have such problems, after all…). I would never expect photos of drug addicts or porn addicts shared around the church for everyone’s enjoyment. It would be wrong. So why do we not give women (I’ll say women cause we’re always called out on this), who are struggling with dress reform the same the same care? It’s almost as if, by their attire, everyone else thinks they have a right to talk about them, to slander them and make judgments about their spiritual life….

The typical phrase that I always hear about the judgement thing is “well, by their fruits ye shall know them”, which is true. But people are still far too quick to come to a conclusion about someone’s character. If you are using something as superficial as an outfit to make conclusions about how someone must be, then by principal the only fruit you can confidently assess is their dress reform fruit. You can’t say anything about their personal prayer life; or how much they’re studying the Word; you can’t say what’s in their heart or if they’ve witnessed that week; you can’t see if they’re a nice person, or even their motives for dressing how they do. All you can say is that when it comes to dress reform, they’re ignorant.

Now, in regards to someone who has no second thoughts about publicly shaming a woman who has come to church dressed immodestly; who gets angry at the thought of having to be “politically correct” when approaching someone about their outfit; who doesn’t know or understand how to talk to someone about this issue with respect and understanding; who has forgotten where God has brought them from; who sees women who dress immodestly as “trying to tempt men”, or “trying to take men” (errm, maybe cut down on the Tyler Perry films?), and who gets annoyed when said person reacts emotively to their treatment—I’d say their actions speak volumes about their spiritual life. If behaviour like that is second-nature, then it says more about what’s in their heart, than the person dressing immodestly. I would even say that these are the fruits we should be focusing on more, since they verbally show what’s going through a person’s head. If a Christian habitually behaves in this way, they deserve prayers. Because in essence, they’re wasting time coming to church: they are a Christian who’s mean. What’s more, being told that the modesty issue requires “politically correct” speech annoys them. You’re going to be talking to someone about their appearance! Why would you not want to be kind to them? Have you ever heard of a Christian who gets offended at the thought of showing kindness? How bizarre.

It’s worrying because we have two classes of church-goers that emerge from this scenario. People who display fruit that don’t really look all that good. Like a persimmon, or a pineapple. Maybe their fruit is covered in dirt? But inside it’s all sweet and rich and all it will take is some gentle encouragement, study and aid to guide them to understand more what Christ wants for them. Just because they may not dress the part, doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re rebellious, or that they have no care for God’s sanctuary; they want to take everyone’s husband, or they have a vendetta against all men and want them to sin. It means that God is bringing them on a journey. We all have to start from somewhere; everyone’s had their own struggles and problems throughout their Christian walk, through which we’ve all been met with discouragement and scorn and unfair judgement. Why should be pass on that same attitude to someone else who’s trying just as we are? Why not break the cycle and do the Christ-like thing for once?

The second person displays the fruit that looks amazing: a big Julie mango, ripe and fresh. But unbeknownst to everyone else (probably not even themselves, which is the scary part), the flesh is sour and rotten with mould. It’s no good, but because they wear a nice hat, and high-necked tops and long skirts, everyone assumes them to be virtuous, modest, vegan, natural; the perfect wife and all those idealised stereotypes of women we have in church. We tend to make archetypes out of women based on appearance—in the world as well as the church—and these affect the level of respect a woman is given; the confidence that church members put into her; and how she gets treated from day to day. Massive conclusions of character are made about a woman by how she looks. The person with the deceitful fruit also needs lots of prayer, that they may be kinder to those around them and not internalise the horrible way in which they were probably treated in the past about their dress.

Let’s try to remember that every speck or blemish in our characters is a sign of some sort of struggle with sin. It’s up to us to help each other not only take responsibility for our actions, but to empathise and encourage. The modesty issue is never really seen as someone “struggling” with a particular way of life: it’s much easier to paint the woman in question as some sort of Babylonian/Golden Calf-worshipping heathen, for which she should be as publicly and unsympathetically dealt with as possible. Not cool, guys.

Think before you speak, and ask God to make your thoughts as close to His as possible, so that your own faults have a higher priority in your mind than everyone else’s.

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Untitled

There is a bruise on my arm.
A round of purple petals
once small and unimportant
like abandoned buds in winter
that failed to bloom for their time,
or the discarded sunbeam
of a daffodil in the middle of
fresh auburn, lost in
the funeral confetti of summer;
or as useless as
a Christian woman
who wants to be loved in the midst
of red, empty aisles.

What started as something stupid–
a blight of health,
as if I were lounging in doctors’ parlours
given injections;
leaving behind the dot of scarlet
on blue veins,
the unwanted leakage; like an unsightly stain
on the seat of a pair of jeans–

Has now blossomed like an inferno.
Congealed, like molten flesh
turning wistfully over a fire.
I ignored the apostle’s plea:
St Paul suggested union
to prevent the explosion of my self
and yet I continued
watching the offspring of forbidden gardens
bloom angrily on my sleeve.

And every time I move
I feel the pull on my arm
where a bruise was made against my Spirit.
A shawl; a jumper or robe
to cover–
but at night, when I’m naked in my bed
I’ll see the brand and wince at the reminder
of how unbearable I am.

Constrained By…?

I went to a prayer meeting last Monday afternoon at Plaistow Church at which I was given an experience that I’m really grateful for. These meetings are held every Monday and there has never been a time that I’ve visited and received no blessing. These people seriously believe in prayer; they treat it like medicine and if anyone steps through the doors in dire need of help, they prescribe the dosage with a faith that I really admire. Last Monday was the first time that I’d left the meeting with a page of notes; of thoughts, that I wanted to share on the blog and expand upon in my diary. We discussed a reading from Ephesians 3 from which Paul tells the church of Ephesus to not be discouraged over any trials that may come his way but to look to God instead. The discussion on this text eventually led onto the topic of God’s love and mercy.

Paul was an interesting person and he’s probably the best subject matter after my previous post. After years of torturing, killing and imprisoning countless Christians, he became one of the most well known Bible writers and an advocate of love and truth. There are times in the New Testament that you can see his patience has been tested by the churches, or times when his faith has taken a nosedive straight into the darkest depths of his mind—a friend once told me that he displays signs of depression in the book of Timothy; as he tells his fellow disciple about struggles he’s faced but the hope he still has in God. Because of these experiences Paul encountered, he more than anyone could testify about forgiveness, mercy and love—he wrote one of my favourite passages in the Bible, the ‘love chapter’, 1 Corinthians 13. He tells us that love is patient and kind; selfless and longsuffering. This is true love and it comes from God. Probably one of his greatest gifts to a fallen race.

But with true love comes false love. Infatuation; lust; exaggeration. People who were madly in love with each other on their wedding day are praying for the other’s death or downfall a few years’ later. Someone who spent decades with their spouse, producing an army of children and good memories, can engage in an extramarital affair with alarming ease. On the news recently the case of Jeremy Forrest has returned: a 30-year-old school teacher who fell in love with one of his students. She was 14 at the time their relationship started and he was married to a woman his own age. Despite being madly in love with his student (and she with him), he failed to see that a man with such responsibility should respect a girl enough to not accept her virginity when she is underage; his deep love for her was shallow enough that he could not patiently wait until she left school as a legal adult—even more, his love and his own heart was just so consumed with passion that he was unable to see that eloping with a now 15 year old girl to France would not end well, and that she would be missed by her family and would not be able to attend school. Love should be rational, surely? Which is why I don’t like the term ‘fall in love’. Falling isn’t a good thing; it denotes something that happened suddenly and unexpectedly; a fleeting feeling or passionate emotion. You fall and you hurt yourself; you could also say ‘plummeting in love’.

Christ’s love is supposed to ‘constrain us’. Not in a controlling way or forceful bondage, but to restrain the negative nature of ourselves: his love and sacrifice show us how to live for others, live for our faith and live selflessly. His love alone provides a blueprint of how to go about things. False love is a delusion. It comes from the enemy and can be hard to detect. Since my last post about love, I’ve really been meditating on it and thinking more about how I should act if I say I love someone. Well, for one, I wouldn’t be thinking about my own lusts and selfish desires, but about how the other person would feel—also a Christian and also in the same line of guilt. I would want to preserve their dignity and body, respect them as a fellow child of God and give them the boundaries they deserve. I would be patient and understanding towards them; mindful of their feelings. I would try to adopt the Christ-like character, rather than ‘my heart’.

If the love of Christ constrains me, I don’t want to be chained down to anything less.

Sometimes It Feels Like There’s a Bomb in My Head, Waiting to Explode…

I’ve always been a victim of my own destructive thoughts. I have a habit of day dreaming that I’ve cultivated, fertilized and tended to for years now; I’m pretty much standing in a tangled mesh of roses, thorns and bristles at this point. This all started a few years ago, when I began suffering from psychotic episodes. My concentration was awful; I’d practically sit in class staring at a wall, and only regain consciousness with ten or so minutes of the lesson to spare. It was during this time that I saw just how sinister and self-destructive my thoughts could be. My day dreaming often led to long moments, sometimes hours, of lying in bed with my eyes fixed on the ceiling. And I’d think, and think, about how awful I was, how much I was unloved; that I was ugly; that I should be dead. This usually resulted in physical self harm. One night, I boiled the kettle and poured the water on my arm.

Thankfully, God brought me out of that. But the vestiges of the past haunt me from time to time.

If I’m honest, my levels of lust within my relationship has been hard to cope with. Before I had ever been in a relationship, I naively thought that ‘lust’ wasn’t a huge issue for me; that I could always control myself. Well, now I’ve grown up. It’s been difficult, but I prayed; I set boundaries and curfews; I spent more time studying the Word, got involved with loads of church work to keep me occupied. Those things worked brilliantly, in fact, but every now and then I slip, and end up feeling really awful about myself afterwards…

Today has been a low day. I got home really late last night (fell asleep sometime after 1am), and ended up waking up at half six in the morning, only to find I couldn’t get back to sleep, despite my eyes stinging with fatigue. I rolled over and looked at my university email from my iPod and saw that I received my lowest score of the year so far. That already put me in a bad mood, but coupled with the tiredness, and the spiritual stumble that I took the night before (I broke the curfew) led me to think again. I was thinking, thinking, thinking, becoming more entangled in the thorns; cut and bruised, I emerged in a fit of literal tears. I cried for quite a while and the more I cried the worse I felt. I tried to get rid of this image I’d created of myself in my head, but I couldn’t. I kept thinking, ‘how far are you going to push yourself to the edge before you end up participating in something you’ll really, really regret? What are you really worth? Why are you making yourself so open? Since when were you a prostitute?’

I understand that a lot of the self-blame stems from the cultural belief that a woman needs to exercise more chastity than men, and in the church, a woman who is ‘hard-to-get’ and perches herself on that pedestal, away from all male hands until her wedding night, is a woman truly fit to be given the title of ‘Proverbs 31’. A virtuous woman, indeed. And my boyfriend holds nonof these views. Not even a little bit. I kept reminding myself of this fact, but I chose to listen to the voice that did not have my best interest at heart.

We spoke on the phone in the morning. When we ended the call, I burst into tears again, mainly because he sounded so sorrowful and I thought I’d caused him unnecessary upset. I felt as though I shouldn’t have said anything, but I wanted to be honest.

I’m yet to eat a meal today. I had my shower late; popped to the shops to get some water and household stuff; got back into my nightclothes retreated to my bed, eating chocolate and turning on the laptop to write this post. I felt sorry for myself, but I checked on Facebook before logging onto WordPress, and the statuses I saw almost took my breath away.

I have many Adventist/Christian friends on my Facebook, so I’m used to Bible texts on my Newsfeed, but this afternoon something else happened: all the passages that people were putting up were about sin, and the penalty that Jesus paid in order for us not to feel guilty and dejected and depressed when we do something wrong, but for us to give all our burdens and baggage to Him, at the foot of the Cross. I almost cried again, but for a different reason this time. So many people, so many texts and words of encouragement–I hadn’t told anyone about how I was feeling or what was going through my head, but it was as if the Spirit moved, so that they all wrote texts that corresponded with each other. The text that really stood out to me is taken from 1 John 2:1-2:

My little children, these things I write unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ, the righteous: And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world…

I was also reminded of the lyrics to a hymn that has been in my head ever since I read the Bible text: Jesus Paid it All:

I hear the Saviour say
“Thy strength indeed is small
Child of weakness, watch and pray
Find in me thine All in All”

Jesus paid it all
All to Him I owe
Sin had left a Crimson stain
He washed it White as snow

Sometimes, God leaves me lost for words. Despite what has happened today, with my habit of self-destruction reaching such a high level, it’s finally taken a turn for the better…

…Because God has the power to save me from myself.

A Rebuke…

Unto the pure all things are pure: but unto them that are defiled and unbelieving is nothing pure; but even their mind and conscience is defiled.

 

They profess that they know God; but in works they deny him, being abominable, and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate.

 

Taken from Titus 1: 15, 16

I didn’t fully understand what ‘reprobate’ meant, so I looked it up in the dictionary:

rep·ro·bate

  [rep-ruh-beyt]  Show IPA noun, adjective, verb, rep·ro·bat·ed, rep·ro·bat·ing.

noun

1.

a depraved, unprincipled, or wicked person: a drunken reprobate.
2.

a person rejected by God and beyond hope of salvation.
 
Now that is scary. I received the passage in a text yesterday night. It led me to ask myself, do I really believe the God that I serve? Is it shown in my actions? 
 
Time won’t permit me to write a lengthy post this morning; I need to get ready for a funeral, but in due course I’ll be writing Part 2 to Lust. Now I’ve gained a deeper understanding of the word…
 
xXx

That Night…

I did something wrong.
Tied together with someone else
the rope forming complex knots,
knots strong enough to caress a carcass
and rock it back and forth
over a cliff.

That night
I did something wrong
and it was so wrong that I couldn’t talk to You about it
pacing my room muttering
sonnets of sorrys in my head
the words dissolved on the edge of my tongue
I rebuked the walls
lest they heard my of my sin.

I didn’t want the air around me to be polluted with it
so I sat up all night
staring at the ceiling
and hoping to see Your face.

And now, all I ask
is Your forgiveness
and a way to feel Your grace.

Knotholes

We said we would wait for God
before we did anything.
We ate our meals with a third seat between us
vacant, so He could sit and observe
our pure conversations
stilted devotional rhetoric
church banter
musings of creation;
amongst the blades of glass on the table
filled with apple juice
that cast chlorophyllic shadows
across the white table cloth
and reflected on the silvery pools of knives and forks
which glimmered in blank response.

You used to telephone me in the morning
so we could pray together;
at night for Bible study.
Visits round mine consisted of sitting by the coffee table
Bible open,
and our bottomless eyes staring at newsprint
becoming entranced in the thees the thys the thous the therefores
It seeped through in your prayers, this language
to take me back to a buried age–
your words fell upon me till I was foetal and surrounded
hands tied together, noose around my neck, shackles on.
Men calling–

WITCH

–to my face.

Our Bible was imperative to our meetings,
the paper thin, like the skin of a cocoon
fragile, wings of a moth
pure, like doilies on wedding tables
family, friends and anonymouses crowding around us
as we dance, Bible confetti snowing down on our heads
Bible petals falling on a consummation bed
dotted red with consummation blood
red turning to auburn, auburn to chestnut
the wild of me as we interlock, hidden in knotholes in the forest
and back again, to meet the disappointment
of cyclical blood: burnt umber,
the ashes of my hope swirls like dust unearthed
from a rug.

Trivial things of married couples
arguments, torn wedding dresses
reconciliations in bathtubs
counting down menstrual days like prophecy
until you can try again.

You and I failed to get there.
I remember staring at the ceiling
as it swam in my wetted eyes
and feeling forbidden blood oozing down my legs.
We were still young
and illegitimate.
Our Bible open above us but cold and foreboding
every swirl of the letter was like a dismayed Eye.
We were on the floor, by the coffee table. Behind us,
was the vacant chair
where God should have been.

I Like Naked Women

This is my first post of September. My posts have been irregular of late. Forgive me, I’d like to change that.

Last post I spoke about lust and beaches. I put a note at the end that the discussion would be continued because I have a lot to say on the matter—I reckon I could do three more posts on it, actually. Maybe in the future, when the time is right. For now, I want to address something that followed on from the discussion I had with my friend about swimming costumes…

I have very interesting friends. One of my other friends (male) has a problem with me reblogging photos of naked women on my Tumblr page. In another conversation I had, one of my male friends told me that it’s inappropriate. It led on to a discussion with the first friend about why he thought the way he  did about my blog having naked women on it. I won’t go into details because it was long and we went around in circles quite a bit, but I find it interesting that Christian men (in general) find issue with such photos.

For me at least, to be naked is to be in your natural state. We weren’t born with clothes on. So if I wanted to have a picture of a naked woman on my blog it shouldn’t (in theory) be any different from having a picture of a bare tree in winter. What it boils down to in essence is the sexual response one would experience from looking at one and not the other. Even though this shouldn’t be the case, a lot of people—in church and out of it—see a naked body as something sexual first, before they see it is something natural. Forget pornographic pictures, because I’m against pornography anyway, but to me nakedness in photography can provide a very bold statement about vulnerability, boldness and inhibitions. It can make us question our own responses to certain images and perhaps challenge them.

People aren’t as repulsed or shocked or uncomfortable at naked photos of children because it’s children, and only a very small group of people in the world would be sexually aroused by such images. It’s the photo of a fully grown woman, round breasts, wide hips and all, that seems to be  a bigger problem for some. Interesting to note: the same people aren’t as appalled to step inside the National Gallery, where there are hundreds of oil paintings from way-back-when of naked women. For some reason, that is art, but a real-life image is too much.

I speak not from a corner of condemnation, but from my own experiences. You see, Tumblr is a very free social network. It doesn’t have the same restrictions as Facebook and Twitter, therefore people go wild and it’s likely that you’ll stumble across blogs dedicated to naked people and, in some cases, porn clips. As a heterosexual woman, I have no problem seeing naked women on my Tumblr Newsfeed, because I’m able to rationally separate the photos that are supposed to be there for titillation and those that are there to make a point (or are just very, very pretty and empowering). I mean, breasts don’t phase me because I have a pair of my own! And I can look at them whenever I want to. However, when a photo of a naked man comes along my Newsfeed, I get all uncomfortable (“scroll quick! Before my eyes are burned.“) This isn’t because I actively objectify men, but because a naked man will—most times—strike me as an image of sex, before something more artistic. And, as someone who’s had problems with lust in the past and still struggles from time to time, I’m not too keen on having photos of penises in my face. I’m not completely unable to separate porn from art, but I find it much harder than if I was looking at a photo of a woman.

But this means that it’s my problem. I can’t look down my nose at the men posing, as if they’re doing something morally wrong, because they may not have taken the photo to arouse anyone, so if I am aroused, it’s something I need to deal with and the logical step would be to avoid certain users on Tumblr who I know like to post those things (no, I wouldn’t close down my Tumblr account because that’s a bit extreme in my eyes. There are harmfully unedifying videos on Youtube, but I still have an account there and the same can be said for the things you find on Facebook.)

What I was able to get from the discussion I had with both of my friends is a mutual understanding. I appreciate the male body, same way how my male friends appreciate the female body, so if they don’t think photos of the female body is appropriate, that’s their view.

As for me, I love women’s bodies. God is surely an artist ; ) . So yeah, I don’t have a problem with those photos, as long as the women in them aren’t being exploited.

Happy Sabbath.
(Gosh, sunset was at 7:16 today. Summer is over…)

xXx

Lust

For a while I’ve been at a loss for what to say on this matter because I’m still formulating my ideas about it. My feelings are subject to change, anyhow.

I had a discussion with a friend about Christians going to the beach a few days ago. I never thought that the beach would ever be a non-Christian venue, but people in general will find the worst in a lot of things. The problem arose when we went onto swimming attire. If I’m honest, even if I wasn’t a Christian I wouldn’t wear a bikini because to me it’s just underwear and I’m a self-conscious person. I thought that swimming costumes would be fine, not just for me but also for any of my Christian male companions that I am with. I said Christian because men in the world don’t worry about this problem as much as church men do (I really do believe we need to reassess how we talk about sex and purity in church. There’s something oppressive about it. People shouldn’t be agonizing or lamenting to themselves whenever they see a woman in short skirt, but anyway…).

My friend (a man) asked me if a swimming costume is a suitable outfit for a Christian woman to wear. I was shocked. I didn’t lose my temper as I would have in the past, but I thought the question was bizarre. One of the main things people like to do at the beach is splash about in the water, but in my friend’s world, the water would be off limits. I respected the fact that he made it clear that men also shouldn’t be in the water, seeing as though swimming trunks are made from even less material than a bathing suit, but I still found it hard to see his angle. Should Christians not go to the swimming pool, then? Because it’ll be hard to find a male only/women only public bath.

This is why I’m becoming increasingly paranoid about males. How lustful are they that they can’t bear to see a woman in a swimming costume? I just don’t know what is inappropriate for me to wear anymore and it’s tiring, because every man likes something different. I may wear something that fits one man’s “standards” but it will induce lusting in another man. What would I do then? What’s the point of dressing for male tastes? And why should I feel the need to?

It’s frustrating because I feel as though men get pampered a lot with this issue. There’s so much pressure for women to dress modestly or “virtuously” and it can be suffocating at times. Sadly, its not just a church issue. In the world, a woman will be called a slut if she dresses a certain way, and people are of the assumption that if you want to be respected as a woman you mustn’t dress like a “hoe” (ugh). How laughable is that? Sorry, hun, but if you can only respect a woman because she dresses in the way that YOU want then you didn’t respect women in the first place. Having respect for women shouldn’t come with a condition. A lot of church men have the same opinion, they simply pretty it up in Holy Jargon. But really, if God doesn’t have a condition for valuing women, then why should mortal men?

I suppose I’m just tired of people judging women by how they dress. You do know that it’s possible to do the same for men? Trousers swinging by their knees, flashy watches and low baseball caps are usually indicators of a particular nasty stereotype of men that I don’t actually think is fair, but it exists and for some reason people don’t give it as much attention as all these women dressing “slutty”.

There needs to be a better dialogue on this matter. Because I struggle with lust sometimes. Loads of women struggle with lust, but when are these issues addressed? Most people think that lusting is only a man’s problem. How wrong they are.

(To be Continued….)

Reins

You had me
on my hands and knees.
I crawled like an animal on the ground
the dirt carved rancid contours in my skin
which helped to map the journey
of the sins
that I held dear;
How far these acts had brought me
and how near to death I am.

I felt a scorching sun between my legs
which pulsed with each throbbing movement;
sent daggers of pain along my spine
every time I remembered.
The blood that runs from me
like a leaking tap
or angered menstruation
only causes others to see
that I allowed you to use me.

A noose to cut into my neck
and a red handkerchief to gag me
a cloth plastered to my eyes
so I lose sight of any Light:
all my hope is gone
and I’m bound to you entirely

There are things that I love doing
and some activities refuse to be abandoned:
those websites that I sought out
and watched with morbid fascination
until they were all I thought about during the day
and rushed home to spectate again;
those novels that told me I was invincible
and excited me for other things;
those people I loved to talk to
about affairs that didn’t concern me;
those men I went home with
so they could fill me, yet I still left feeling empty;
those times I ignored the Word for Worldly Things…

Now I only have your word.
How far must one have fallen,
to believe the slippery solicitations of a serial
adulterer
deceiver
and fiend?

How far must one have fallen? I asked,
as the Devil rode me like a fool
for his bidding.