Suppose you’ve been invited to meet the Queen of England. You don’t just walk in, wave, and say, “Hey there Elizabeth.” There are rules, protocol, and etiquette. You should bring a gift, remember to use the right form of address (“Your Majesty” first, then “ma’am”), and not turn reach out and touch her. These days, you won’t get in too much trouble for a slip in convention. But there have been many countries and many times throughout history that approaching royalty in the wrong way could get you killed.
Traditionally, people have recognized something special about royalty. Part of this was religious — rulers were seen as gods, or representatives of the gods, or appointed by God. It’s also a matter of recognizing and respecting an authority role. Even in countries without a monarchy, we’ll still tend to recognize that some social positions command a certain amount of respect (i.e. you won’t talk with your boss the same way as a close friend and you’d probably show the President even more respect).
A Question From God
The Bible applies several titles to God that demand respect, including Father, Master, Lord, and King. But do we take them seriously? Historically, God’s people have fallen short in this regard.
A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If I am a father, then where is my honor? And if I am a master, where is the respect due me? Says Yahweh of Armies to you, priests, who despise my name. (Mal. 1:6, WEB)
Yes, God loves you and He wants to be your friend. But we’re not to forget who He is and the respect due Him. “‘For I am a great King,’ says Yahweh of Armies, ‘and my name is awesome among the nations’.” (Mal. 1″14, WEB). God deserves more respect than worldly authority figures, but do we even give Him that much? Read more →
Feminism constantly tells women we have no reason to be ashamed of our bodies, our desires, our gender, our career goals – of anything really. We can do and be whatever we want and nothing should hold us back. It sounds good in theory, but like many things humans do it can be taken to extremes.
Take the Women’s March from a few weeks ago as an example. If you want to march around with what one blogger I follow delicately called a pink taco on your head I won’t stop you. But those of us who don’t do things like that aren’t any less “women” than you are, nor are we less interested in being treated with dignity, respect, and equality. In fact, that’s a big reason we express our notions of feminism (and femininity) in different ways.
Today, I’m going to take society’s claim that there’s no need to feel shame about the kind of woman you are to heart and say I’m not ashamed of modesty. Depending on your background this word may have provoked a strong reaction. Perhaps you think modesty is a repressive, old-fashioned list of rules telling women how not to dress and act. Or maybe you think modesty sounds safe – a way to hide from attention you don’t want any more. But modestly is about so much more than a set of rules for covering yourself up. It’s more powerful and – dare I say it? – sexy than we often think.
Let’s start with a working definition of modesty: Modesty is concealing what you do not want everyone to know or see so that you can reveal yourself only to someone you trust. It’s typically associated with the idea of sex and how much skin you show, but it has to do with other things as well. For example, you might also exercise modesty by not calling undue attention to yourself or by reserving certain parts of your personality for people you know well. Read more →
So the election happened a couple weeks ago. Unfortunately, one of our candidates won. We all knew it was going to happen. Most of us wouldn’t have been all that happy either way, plenty of people would have been scared and upset with either outcome, and some few would have been dancing for joy when their candidate won because they honestly thought they’d be a good president.
My title is a bit misleading, I suppose. It does matter who the president is because that impacts the future course of our nation, how other nations see us, and the policy that affects every day life for many people. But now that Donald Trump is president, we have to live with it. He won fairly according to the rules set up in our country. If Hillary Clinton had won, I’d be writing pretty much the exact same thing.
But though it does matter who’s president, it is shocking to see how many people are taking their candidate’s loss as a personal affront and the way they’re vilifying other Americans who disagreed with them. If you supported Trump, you’re therefore a racist misogynist who hates Muslims and women. If you supported Clinton, you’re therefore an air-head liberal not in touch with reality and careless of society’s moral decline. And on and on we go, painting people we don’t know with broad bush strokes according to how we view the candidate they supported.
That has to stop. We are not our political parties. We don’t always vote for someone because we agree with all their actions or every view they hold. (Just in case you’re wondering, I voted 3rd party because I couldn’t in good conscience choose either Clinton or Trump. My alternate plan was not voting at all.) Some people who voted for Trump did so because they preferred his policies even though they couldn’t stand his personal morals and don’t share the bigoted views that have been associated with his campaign. Some people who voted for Clinton did so because they thought she was the less-terrifying option or agreed with her policies, not because they wanted a female president at any cost or permission to slaughter babies.
How you and I choose to act in response to the election results has become so much more important than who won and who lost. If we want to hold our country and the new president to a higher standard, we must first start by holding ourselves to a higher standard. Don’t want to live in a country where people are harassed for how they look, think, or worship? Then don’t go around harassing people who disagree with you and stand up against such harrasment whenever you can. Dislike the idea of someone being thrown out of your country for speaking their mind or living life how they choose? Don’t threaten someone else’s liberties of expression and belief.
It’s become startlingly obvious to people throughout America that there are plenty of Americans who don’t agree with us. Yet we still have to live together. We need to find a way to disagree without attacking each other. We need to figure out how to work together for a more united society while still respecting others’ differences. And we need to give our new president a chance to live up to his promises to “bind the wounds of division,” “work together and unify our great country,” and “deal fairly with everyone, with everyone — all people and all other nations” as we “seek common ground, not hostility; partnership, not conflict.”
Whether or not you believe him is moot at this point. Encourage him to actually do it instead of pretending he’s not president. And meanwhile, remember to be the change you want to see in the world. Or, to quote Gandhi more directly, “We but mirror the world. All the tendencies present in the outer world are to be found in the world of our body. If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change.” Instead of adapting to the growing culture of hate, let’s dig deep inside ourselves and stand for goodness.
I mentioned a couple weeks ago that I recently read a book called A Return to Modesty: Discovering the Lost Virtue by Wendy Shalit. One of the first things she tackles in this book is the “polarized debate about sex,” particularly between the conservatives and the feminists.
She challenges conservatives to “take the claims of feminists seriously,” because you can dismiss however many studies and stories you like as “exaggeration” but the fact remains that “a lot of young women are very unhappy …. I want conservatives to really listen to these women, to stop saying boys will be boys, and to take what these women are saying seriously.”
To the feminists, Shalit writes, “I want to invite them to consider whether the cause of all this unhappiness might be something other than the patriarchy.” We’ve gotten rid of that just about as much as possible, and things have gotten worse rather than better. Perhaps men aren’t the enemy.
But just a little over two months ago Emma Watson, British actress and UN Women Goodwill Ambassador, gave a speech about feminism where her vision for gender equality sounded remarkably similar to ideas Wendy Shalit arrives at while defending the power of modesty. Are we starting to find common ground, and is there hope for a peaceful resolution to “the war between the sexes”?
A Trip to the 18th Century
It might seem odd to take a 3-century detour when talking about issues in modern culture. But when I started reading Francis Burney’s novels Cecelia (1782) and Camilla (1796) as part of an independent study my junior year of college, I was struck by how the gender issues facing those heroines were so remarkably like what women in my church regularly complain about. Where are the “real men?” we ask, looking around and seeing adult men who act like overgrown boys and have little interest in committing to marriage. We typically blame feminism, for telling boys that it was wrong to be “masculine” and to stop oppressing girls by taking care of them.
A contemporary of Burney, Mary Wollstonecraft wrote a book called A Vindication of the Rights of Women (1792), which is often considered one of the first feminist writings. When you actually read her book, however, it becomes clear that she is arguing for arguing for a reexamination, not a dismissal, of the traditional roles between men and women. She believes men and women are equal in God’s eyes, but that argument doesn’t mean they don’t both have distinct roles to fill.
Both these writers were responding to a moment called “sentimentality,” which encouraged men to indulge their emotions and abandon their traditional roles of protectors and providers. The result was something like what we see today — when men are no longer encouraged to protect or respect women, more and more women are victimized. That’s where we made our mistake, both in the 18th and the 20th/21st centuries. We thought men would treat women better if we told them to stop being manly, when in fact the opposite is true.
When Emma Watson introduced her talk about gender equality and the #HeForShe campaign, she first addressed issues people have with the word “feminism.”
the more I spoke about feminism, the more I realized that fighting for women’s rights has too often become synonymous with man-hating. If there is one thing I know for certain, it is that this has to stop. For the record, feminism by definition is the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities. It is the theory of political, economic and social equality of the sexes.
One of the key points of Watson’s speech is that both men and women must be working together if we are ever to achieve a gender equality that benefits and protects both men and women.
How can we effect change in the world when only half of it is invited or feel welcome to participate in the conversation? Men, I would like to take this opportunity to extend your formal invitation. Gender equality is your issue, too. Because to date, I’ve seen my father’s role as a parent being valued less by society, despite my need of his presence as a child, as much as my mother’s. I’ve seen young men suffering from mental illness, unable to ask for help for fear it would make them less of a man. …
If men don’t have to be aggressive in order to be accepted, women won’t feel compelled to be submissive. If men don’t have to control, women won’t have to be controlled. Both men and women should feel free to be sensitive. Both men and women should feel free to be strong.
When we turn issues of gender into a “battle of the sexes” instead of a friendly discussion or a cause to work on together, both men and women lose the battle. You can’t build peaceful relations on a foundation of strife.
Wendy Shalit discusses essentially the same issue, though she comes from the perspective of restoring part of the traditional gender roles (I suspect Burney and Wollstonecraft would both approve). Rather than pushing for an increasingly “nonsexist” approach to raising boys (in this example), she argues for “a good dose of sexist upbringing: how to relate as a man to a woman.”
Today we want to pretend there are no differences between the sexes …. We try to cure them of what is distinctive instead of cherishing these differences and directing them towards each other in a meaningful way. We can never succeed in curing men and women of being men and women, however, and so these differences emerge anyway — only when they do, the emerge in their crudest, most untutored form (p.153).
She also goes back to a previous century to illustrate her arguments, all the way to 1630 and 1631 — the years Richard Brathwait’s The English Gentleman and The English Gentlewoman were published. Shalit’s reading of these texts is that there was a “link between male obligation and female modesty” where men attained “perfection” by treating women with respect (p.99-102). In this century, men were not compelled to respect women by an outside authority — they were taught that this was the only way for real men to behave.
The argument from external authority labels a man as evil if he date-rapes or sexually harasses a woman. From the standpoint of modesty, he is behaving abominably, but more crucially, he is really missing the whole point. He hasn’t understood what it means to be a man (p.104).
The feminists who see patriarchy as oppressive balk at this idea, but Shalit assures them, “I doubt that if men are taught to relate courteously to women, women would be suddenly thrown out of all the professions, as some contend. Maybe, on the contrary, it would be much easier for the sexes to work together.” Isn’t this, at its core, what Emma Watson’s brand of feminism is asking for? men and women who can work together toward common goals with mutual respect. Isn’t that something we all want?
I’ve finished making my way through a study of Proverbs, in preparation for my church’s women’s group discussion about favorite proverbs that is taking place this afternoon. My first post covered five proverbs from chapters 1-10, the second covered five from chapters 11-20, and this last post is for chapters 21-31. I still haven’t decided which of these 15 is my favorite, but at least I’ve narrowed it down to 15.
A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, loving favor rather than silver and gold. (Prov. 22:1)
I just heard a sermonette last week about God giving people names with meanings that fit the roles He designated them for — Jesus = savior; Paul = small; Peter = a little stone; Abraham = father of a multitude. From what I understand, names in Hebrew thought are inseparable from the essence, character, and reputation of a person. Therefore, it is better to have a good reputation, a name worthy of respect, than to have great riches. The word for “favor,” which is described as better than silver and gold, is from the word chen (H2580), and it means “favor, kindness, grace, loveliness, charm, preciousness.”
For a righteous man may fall seven times and rise again, but the wicked shall fall by calamity. (Prov. 24:16)
It doesn’t promise that if you are a just person you will never fall — it says you will be able to get back up rather than fall deeper into mischief. “Many are the afflictions of the righteous,” David said, “but the Lord delivers him out of them all” (Ps. 34:19). If — when — we fall, we can be assured that God is holding our hand and will help pick us back up (Ps. 37:24).
Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful. (Prov. 27:6)
King Lear would have been a very different play had the titular character been heeding this advice. When a friend wounds you, it is generally 1) an accident, or 2) with a view to your good. David wrote, “Let the righteous strike me; it shall be a kindness. And let him rebuke me; it shall be as excellent oil; let my head not refuse it” (Ps. 141.5). It might make us angry at first, but if we are honest with ourselves, we can often see that we were reproved out of love, and that we become better people with a stronger friendship as a result. In contrast, listening to the flattering words of those who secretly seek our hurt can only lead to grief.
Every word of God is pure; He is a shield to those who put their trust in Him. (Prov. 30:5)
Here we leave Solomon’s proverbs and read “the words of Agur the son of Jakeh” (Prov. 30:1). This is a two-fold promise. Firstly, that God’s words are free of imperfections. As such, it is all profitable and no part should be ignored or neglected (2 Tim. 3:16). Secondly, that the Lord shields those who trust in Him. This was a frequent subject in Psalms, such as “For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord will give grace and glory; no good thing will He withhold from those who walk uprightly” (Ps. 84:11). Connecting these two points is the fact that God’s commands are designed to protect us, as illustrated by this comic I saw on Facebook the other day.
Charm is deceitful and beauty is passing, but a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised. (Prov. 31:30)
This is from the end of the virtuous woman passage contained in “words of King Lemuel, the utterance which his mother taught him” (Prov. 31:1). When I was younger, I latched on to this verse as a substitute for my perceived lack of beauty — if I couldn’t be pretty, I could at least fear God and earn praise that way. As I’ve become more comfortable with myself and more mature as a Christian, my views on this verse have changed. I concentrate more on the last half of the verse, asking “How can I be a woman who fears the Lord?”
Do not let your adornment be merely outward—arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel — rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God. (! Pet. 3:3-4)