Saturday, August 27, 2011

A Month Ago Today....

A month ago today, I climbed onto a plane that took off in LA and landed in Amarillo. I met a young man in the airport who had just gotten back from a missions trip in India, and who was delighted to find someone who was willing to just sit around and read their Bible. (Yes, that was me, and I was reading the epistles of Paul I believe. Love Paul.)

I also met a young woman and her mother on the plane. We talked non-stop about books and missions and the mom's airsickness. She was deathly afraid of planes during turbulence...which was bad, because we hit some pretty crazy turbulence above Las Vegas. Jazmyne and I were glad God had pulled out a roller coaster for us; her mom wasn't so amused. Jazmyne wanted to go to the Philippines on a missions trip next year, but her mom was a bit wary of letting her go so far away. I got to talk to them and encourage Jazmyne.

There are so many little things about China that tend to slip my mind. Like about the old men and women who wandered the university campus, looking for a few plastic bottles that they could take to be recycled in exchange for a few yuan. Or the Chinese girls who brought me a Bible. Or the way some Chinese people put 'yeah' at the end of every sentence, or how they'd stop in the middle of a sentence to stare into space, searching for a word. Or the camp director's habit of speaking in this ridiculous, excited, Billy Mays' style voice.

If you ever go on a trip like that, remember to keep a very good journal.

~Liberty (紫涵)

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Trap of Modesty Standards

Before I get started, let me just say that this might be a hard blog post. It's been hard for me to process all of it. I've had to counter the feeling that I'm being wrong or unspiritual. Which is, of course, sort of the point of this post. Let me just say that I am in no way attacking anyone or any organization/church. If you feel as if you're being attacked, I'm very sorry. But I feel that what this post is about needs to be said, because nobody else is saying it. What I talk about here is something I've observed not just around me, but also in my own life. I speak not from judgement, but from experience.

It has been my observation that standards of modesty hurt, rather than help, the issue of modesty in general. Now before you dismiss the rest of what I'm about to say, please stick with me on this, because I'm going to explain. By "standards of modesty", I mean specific rules that "have" to be followed in order to be "modest." For some churches, it is dresses-only. For others, girls are supposed to wear culottes in their off-hours. For some, modesty is whatever covers you above your knees. Basically, what I mean by standards of modesty is simply the rules that we're supposed to follow so guys won't notice how our bottoms look. This issue is dwelt upon in the church so often, hammered into extinction, then dredged back up to be preached upon again. In some cases, these standards are good, and help.

I am of the opinion, however, that overall, such standards are hurting the youth of the Christian church. I'll deal first with the girls, then with my theories about the guys.

For the Girls

I'm sure we've all felt it. I know I have - those little pricklings of self-righteousness, the ones that start way high up in your brain and work their way down into your heart. Or maybe it's the other way around. I'm not sure. But I know I've felt it. It's that insidious feeling, the one that makes me think poorly of other girls around me because of the way I'm acting.

"I read my Bible every day. Why doesn't she?"

"I make sure to treat everyone with respect. What is he doing, acting like that to her?"

And yes, "I dress modestly. Why can't she just put on some clothes? Doesn't she know she's causing guys to stumble?"

Yes indeed. It's that little worm that causes us to look down on those around us, and exalt ourselves. Not exactly the attitude of a servant. It's certainly not a spirit of love that motivates such thoughts.

Now, before we go any farther, let me make something very clear. I am not bashing modesty as a value. I myself make an effort to dress in a way I consider modest: my shirts are generally not sleeveless (I've made somewhat of a compromise this summer, because it's been 110 on average), and my capris come to my knees. My jeans are never too tight, and if they are, I wear a long shirt. The only thing I am bringing into question in this post is the standardization of such principles, making them hard-and-fast rules. Why am I bringing it into question?

Number one, because of the self-righteous attitude that comes into play, as explained above. I can attest from my own experience that, when I feel as if I'm adhering to some kind of "Godly, spiritual rule," no matter how ridiculous, I start getting a rather superior attitude. Instead of looking at the people around me as precious souls, I start analyzing their dress, seeing if they measure up to what I consider right. Not only have I felt this in my own life, but I've seen other girls, and even sometimes mature older women in the Lord, react in this manner. They bash on other girls and their dress, sometimes loudly enough for the girl they're discussing to hear.

Maybe this is a fault in our own hearts'. If that is the case, then perhaps this post should have a different title and motivation. Perhaps, for some of us, it is a completely different issue, one that should be dealt with in our own hearts. Perhaps it is a mixture of both.

However, I believe that since we dwell on this issue so much, it does become something of litmus test for True Christianity. "Well, look at that girl. How does she dress? Well, she can't really be spiritual. She wears pants, sometimes even to church!"

"Well, that girl wears shorts. So-and-so wears tank-tops. They need to get their hearts right with God. We'll pray for them."

And so it begins. Girls are weighed, not by their actions and their heart, but by their outward appearance. We try to change how they dress first, and then expect their hearts to follow, rather than attempting to change their hearts through the blood of Christ, and then expecting their behavior to change. Meanwhile, other girls - in the youth group, sitting next to them in church - are weighing their dress in the balance, seeing if they are worthy of Christian notice.

In turn, this makes girls who don't adhere to these standards feel like terrible people. They don't feel "Christian" enough, so they try to come up to the standards...and then they feel fake, like they're working too hard at something that should hardly be work at all. And in reality, that's true. Legalistic standards never help a church, they can only harm it. When we begin to weigh people's spirituality, their walk with God, their salvation, upon how they dress, we have degraded the message of the Gospel down to the level of New York's Fashion Week.

Now, I understand that there are certain rules that should be followed by God's people. But those things should be motivated, not out of a fear of social condemnation, or bogeyman tactics wherein our "relationship with God" will be irreparably harmed, but rather through a sincere love for and from Christ. So perhaps, instead of drumming into girls that they are bad Christians because they dress (or don't dress) a certain way, we should just teach the love that passes all understanding.

For the Guys

This section is bound to be shorter than the last one, for quite obvious reasons. I'm not a guy. In case you hadn't noticed. I've never been a guy, I don't intend to ever be a guy, and that's just fine. So you have been warned. This section might be way off. So for any guys reading this, feel free to correct me. I shall then feel stupid about my hypotheses, remove it from this post, and try to forget I ever posted it in the first place. But from what I've observed, this seems to be true. Also, this is how I'd act if I were a guy. Naturally, I'm not, but if I was, this is how it would go. "This" is, of course, what I'm about to talk about. Anyway.

I believe that modesty standards do not hurt just girls, but also guys. If you go to a church anything like mine, modesty is taught on quite frequently. It's touched on even more often, like a passing mantra. "Girls should be modest, etc. etc." This is usually followed by a brief explanation of what constitutes "modest." Not only are the girls now looking around, analyzing what their fellow females are wearing to see if it passes muster, but it's brought attention from the guys. Followup teaching (probably not more than five minutes later) will then reinforce that if girls don't dress properly (that is, within the standards of the church), the guys will inevitably "notice them" and stumble in their thoughts, falling into a hormone-riddled trap of desire and, eventually, lust.

Now the guys have gotten pulled into the cycle. Now, correct me if I'm wrong, but guys like the female body. It's sort of how they're wired. We girls are wired to like the way a handsome guy looks, particularly if he's buff and tanned. (C'mon girls, don't play shy. You know it's true.) That's the way our hormones work. Usually, this is a good thing. After all, it sort of ensures the continuation of the human race. It is only when this attraction turns to something more serious, that we call lust, that it becomes a problem. I know that the propensity of some teenage girls is to dress in a way that is intentionally alluring, making it hard for a guy to resist mentally finishing the job she started, if you know what I mean.

But do we make the job of looking away harder when we have defined standards of modesty? I think we just might, and here's why. We turn the female body completely into a thing of shame. It becomes a terrible thing to even look at a girl and say, "You know, she looks pretty nice." (This can also be a thing with the girls, but I'll deal with that in another post.) Instead of being able to casually acknowledge the fact that so-and-so is well dressed, they have to stop themselves...and that will just make them think about it more.

I mean, come on. How many of us have been specifically instructed not to touch something of our mom's, or a treat for later or whatever? After that, all we can do is think about it. It consumes us...and then we feel bad for even thinking about it, because then we want it. And so, it is my theory that we turn the female body into a thing of shame for Christian guys. He's afraid to even move the wrong way around a girl in case he gives the wrong impression. He's afraid of even looking at her, for fear he'll see something that will be a stumbling block.

And perhaps, when he does look at her, all he can see is how immodestly she is dressed. Once again, it becomes a litmus test. How is she dressed? Is she being a good Christian? Is she modest?

Of course, I've also been told that guys don't notice what we're wearing, anyway. That's also true, from what I've observed. I don't think I'll ever understand teenage guys.

So whether I got any of this right or not, I feel I've explained my thoughts tolerably well. Or maybe not. Probably, I'll read through this in a few years and think, "how ineptly I explained that." That's usually what happens. But for now, this will have to do. Once again, please don't take offense to anything I've said. It's just my thoughts, and thankfully my thoughts don't make the rules.

~Liberty (

Monday, August 1, 2011

Things China Taught Me

سلام لكم في هذا اليوم
  1. It is, in fact, possible to pick up one grain of rice with chopsticks.
  2. If you're in China and you have white skin and a hair color besides black, you're practically a celebrity.
  3. This goes double if you're a white-skinned baby.
  4. When you see a western toilet for the first time in a month, a squeal is most definitely appropriate.
  5. Chinese people do not believe in elevators if the building is less than six floors tall. This is probably why most Chinese buildings are not more than six floors tall.
  6. Eating with your face two inches from your bowl isn't rude; it's the most efficient way to get food from your plate to your mouth when you're using chopsticks.
  7. There is a world of difference between American Chinese food and Chinese Chinese food.
  8. 16 hour plane flights can either be places of memory building or places of blessed sleep. Since the memories will mostly be of trying to go to sleep, it's best to find the "blessed" stage as fast as you can.
  9. When you go out on the roads as a pedestrian, expect to have to make a run for it...and still almost get run over.
  10. When you go out on the roads as a driver, expect to not be allowed to follow traffic laws.
  11. Learn to love tofu.
  12. Mattress? What is this strange thing of which you speak?
  13. Umbrellas are not just for when it's raining. The variety of uses you can put a good umbrella to are never-ending.
  14. The Chinese also, apparently, don't believe in dryers.
  15. It is wise to bring plenty of tissue with you. Even then, over the course of a month, you'll probably end up buying some. But no worries. It's very popular in China.
  16. If it looks like chicken, it probably isn't. If it's brown with some crumbly stuff on it...yeah, that's probably chicken.
There are more things I could put here, but I won't bore you. Just some of the stuff I learned on my trip.