Monday, July 29, 2013
Sunday, July 28, 2013
The other day, I heard a dear friend say that they didn't like the idea of liturgy, that liturgy couldn't be life-filled or spirit-led, and that their non-denominational church was not at all liturgical. Well...
.I was raised exclusively in non-denominational/charismatic churches until college, when I first attended a methodist church. After I married, my husband and I attended and led worship at non-denominational churches until we joined our current UMC home. Suffice it to say, I have a good deal of experience in both "liturgical" and "non-liturgical" traditions. I think that there is liturgy, ritual, and tradition in every church, at least every one I've ever visited; I do not think that stereotypically liturgical churches are as rigid as some think they are, nor do I believe stereotypically "non-liturgical" churches are as flexible- I think the liturgies are simply different. Whether there is an official liturgy in the usual sense or not, the worship service usually follows a pattern and includes the same basic elements in the same order. The sermon is usually (hopefully :) ) thought out ahead of time, the music selected days before worship, and even the interludes of prayer and inspirational blurbs by the worship leader tend to be pre-selected. This is not to say that no impromptu changes ever occur- they do, especially in any music time/ministry time that may follow either the sermon or the main body of worship music- but that generally, things follow an order and are predetermined, even in the most charismatic of churches. This is not, in my opinion, a bad thing.
Take the music, for example- while "spirit-led worship" is an ideal for many charismatic churches, the fact is that very few church musicians are skilled enough to do it or have the time to dedicate to their team, and very few churches have the resources to hire and maintain a full-time commitment from a team of musicians. In fact, I have never seen a team that truly did "spirit led worship", if that means worship that was not planned and orchestrated ahead of time. Even the most apparently "spirit led" (musically acceptable) team in the world, in my experience, plans out the music, rehearses it, etc days ahead. One main instrument and a singer or two can go "off the cuff" more easily, but a whole team is unprecedented in my experience as both a congregant and a worship leader. Then, too, the scripture and prayer that the worship leader may offer during worship are often selected beforehand. Sometimes the worship leader may hear the pastor go a certain direction in the sermon, and may choose something which complements it at the end of the service. (this happens sometimes in more traditionally liturgical churches as well, as worship leaders generally strive to make the message of the music and the spoken word a cohesive whole) Regardless, it is rare, in my experience, for a worship leader to reject predictable, rehearsed music and pre-selected inspiration. Again- I do not see this as at all negative, but I am observing what is.
Then there is the preaching- the main sermon in any church is prepared beforehand. In our methodist church we also have the affirmation of faith, responsive reading, and written prayers we say together, whereas in the charismatic church we have usual greetings/invitations, "words" that some people share on a regular basis, etc. Both have patterns, but the patterns are different.
One of the reasons I love our church is its liturgy. Much of the liturgy has been refined over time and is beautifully and powerfully worded, and the prayers of the liturgists have been the subject of much thought and effort. I love having my children beside me, learning and saying with conviction the essential elements of faith. There is a sense of calm, community, and commonality with the Church past and present that I feel when I participate in our liturgies that I truly love. If we all have liturgy and ritual, why not embrace it and make it something beautiful and meaningful? If we accept that liturgy and ritual and tradition, while they should certainly be flexible and open to change when the Spirit leads so, are an inescapable part of our churches, then this frees us to think about the liturgy, what we are saying, how we are saying it, and what it calls to our minds. I think that intentional liturgy is better liturgy. This doesn't mean, of course, that every liturgy has to sound serious or formal, or that Methodist liturgy should fit in or be adopted by other churches- but I think that a bit of honest evaluation might reveal an area in the non-liturgical church that could be improved upon.
Friday, July 26, 2013
This book was recommended to me by a friend recently, and while I don't relate to/agree with everything in it, I think it's worth reading.
The author, Sue Monk Kidd, is a one-time christian inspirational writer-turned-novelist, and is also the author of The Secret Life of Bees.
The general subject of the book is the importance of the Sacred Feminine in the spiritual and physical lives of women and those who love them, and it is the story of the author's journey from a more traditional, patriarchy-based understanding of God and spirituality to an understanding that includes both Sacred Masculine and Sacred Feminine, among other things. One of the aspects of her journey to which I cannot really relate is her leaving of the church entirely, not just certain churches or denominations, and her elevation of her own experience past the the point I'd peg as healthy. Unlike Ms. Kidd, I believe that a woman can find a balanced understanding of a genderless God within the Christian Church, and that she can find the closest possible relationship with God through a focus on the gospel and the teachings of Christ and with a community of christians to support her.
First, the writing- the book is divided into four sections- Awakening, Initiation, Grounding, and Empowerment. The chronology jumps around- the story is told in many smaller stories, and there is no organizational structure such as thesis points, a chronological timeline, or really any division between the stories, except for her own four general categories. The story is a progression, but not a strictly linear one. For this reason the style doesn't appeal to me and made the book difficult to finish; that's more a statement of preference than an evaluative judgement. If you like to segue between stories more than you like following a concept down a linear progression, Ms. Kid's style will probably appeal to you.
Ms. Kidd writes that her process of "awakening to her feminine self" began with a vivid dream, in which she gave birth to a daughter who was also herself. She says "For years I had written down my dreams, believing, as I still do, that one of the purest sources of knowledge about our lives comes from the symbols and images deep within." This reverence for individual truth and personal feeling is a recurring theme throughout the book. While I think that being knowledgeable and aware of oneself and in tune with feelings and reactions is important, I tend to elevate Truth that exists outside of myself as a litmus test by which to evaluate and quantify personal feelings, so this is not a theme I particularly relate to. I do think that it could be an important point for a person who is not self-aware, or is accustomed to being dismissed, ignored, or minimized; we should not dismiss or ignore, except perhaps temporarily so that we deal with them on our terms, our feelings and reactions. What a person believes about themselves has an enormous impact on themselves and the people around them, and self-knowledge is always healthy and necessary; I do think that this can be taken too far when people blindly accept their feelings as true, as the opposite extreme to repression and self-depreciation.
Ms. Kidd speaks of a gradual awakening to things she had seen all her life but never noticed, and a gradual process of a distinctly feminine self-actualization. This brings me to my main issue with her perspective- she is far, far more of a gender essentialist than I am, and some of her statements seem oddly reminiscent of gender-based statements I have seen in fundamentalist literature from the opposite perspective. Part of her perspective I find beautiful and true- namely, the ideas that a woman experiences spirituality in a deeper way and/or accepts her life as female with more passion and contentment when all holiness and deity is not exclusively male, and that women need strength and autonomy. I don't make the same correlations between women's biological ability to nurture life and a unique feminine propensity for relational nurturing as does Ms. Kidd. But more on that later.
Ms Kidd, who loves the christian monastic and contemplative sides, describes the pivotal experiences she had in monastic retreats, experiences which propelled her into an understanding of God as both Father and Mother, and she describes the dissonance between her growing need to identify with the feminine aspect of God and her attendance at a traditional Southern Baptist church. She remembers the messages both she and her own daughter received as children, messages of male headship and a limitation of certain levels of spiritual service to males. These experiences, along with any harassment and dismissal she experienced, she labels part of something called the Feminine Wound. Ms. Kidd writes that for the first part of her life, she had been asleep as a woman, and unaware of the injustices which she experienced as a female. She had been operating, unbeknownst to herself, in a paradigm which placed a man at the center of woman's existence, and put any personal goals, desires, or development secondary to the wishes and needs of the man. As her awakening progressed, she found herself realizing and recognizing unhealthy patterns and inequalities in her most basic relationships. I relate to this part of her experience- being naturally aggressive and independent, I assume that I have succeeded in overcoming stereotypes and co-dependencies, only to find another root of harmful philosophy that I never knew was a part of me.
Ms. Kidd describes something which she feels every woman should embrace- a uniquely feminine soul; a sense of the relational and interconnected, and the guiding force and power of women. Here I disagree with her, as I don't think souls are gendered, nor do I believe that every woman has a deep internal connection to a relational, earthy, nurturing, inner self. She goes on to say that women have been underrepresented in the historical naming and quantifying of spiritual truth- this I can believe, at least in the official sense. The basic orthodoxy we hold dear was, largely, codified by men, and I can certainly admit the plausibility of her assertion that this fact is responsible for the demise of the sacred feminine within Christianity. I agree with Ms. Kidd on the importance of the sacred feminine to women, in the sense that if God is both feminine and masculine, the idea of both genders as equally divine image bearers becomes more difficult to undermine.
Ms. Kidd describes our culture, even our faith culture, as anesthetizing the feminine spirit, and she quotes Clarissa Pinkola Estes, a quote which I loved:
When a woman is exhorted to be compliant, cooperative, and quiet, to not make upset or go against the old guard, she is pressed into living a most unnatural life- a life that is self-blinding.....without innovation. The world-wide issue for women is that under such conditions they are not only silenced, they are put to sleep. Their concerns, their viewpoints, their own truths are vaporized.
I'd like to think that in the years since Ms. Kidd was young, some of the ways in which she describes females being silenced, minimized, or objectified are no longer as prevalent, but I do think that such things still exist, whether in tempered form, in pockets of religious fundamentalism, or in other places around the world. The condition of women in other places ranges from equality or very near, in some western countries, to the most terrible slavery and oppression in places like the Middle East, parts of Asia, and parts of Africa. I wish I could say that my country was free from the oppressing and silencing of women, but there are echos of it here to varying degrees, more in certain sub-cultures than in others. Whenever I hear people blame a rape victim, or act as if a woman matters nothing if she is not beautiful, or deny higher education to a daughter because of her gender, or exclude women from equal participation in worship, I cringe, thinking of all the steps, all too few, between such polite oppression and the more serious forms of oppression in other parts of the world.
Ms. Kidd describes the course of her life prior to her feminine awakening as filled with attempts to fit external ideals of Christian Womanhood which she had internalized from church and society. She lists several archetypes which describe the good daughter of patriarchy she used to be- the Gracious Lady, that archetype of southern charm, sophistication, and reserve, the Favored Daughter, with all her compliance and man- pleasing and perfectionism, the Secondary Partner, with all her self-effacing and self-sacrificing, and the Silent Woman, with her repression and anger and desperation to be heard. I relate to this as well, knowing the pressure to conform to an ideal of feminine reality and the frustration of being deemed unfeminine because I cannot.
Throughout the book, Ms. Kidd describes various experiences in which she found the Sacred Feminine- dancing with her friends on the beach, experiences in nature, and study of and visiting sacred places of the Sacred Feminine. Many of her examples of the sacred feminine in early religions were new to me, and this aspect of the book was a catalyst for much enjoyable further study. She relates some of her experiences as a metaphor to the story of Ariadne, and the back-and-forth between this story and her own was interesting.
Ms. Kidd does not denigrate men, but respects and loves her husband, which I appreciate. All too often, I see the stereotype of the independent "feminist" woman inextricably linked in people's minds with a "bad wife", or a distant, disrespectful, or inattentive woman. Not so- I was never a better wife than I am now, in all my feminist glory. :) It's funny how a push for honesty, equality, and mutual love and respect actually doesn't ruin a relationship.....
Throughout this book, Ms. Kidd references many religions having to do with the Sacred Feminine, and seems to appreciate that aspect of their spirituality. In my own belief, while the only complete Truth is found in Christ, other religions can certainly have good mixed in with the not-so-good, and can be a source of revelation, as can many non-religious things. Ms. Kidd mentions the sacred feminine symbology of the serpent several times, which I find interesting considering its biblical symbology... which in turn simply reminds us of the fluid nature and limited empiricism of symbology. :) When drawing from many eras and cultures, it is wholly possible that multiple symbologies for the same object or idea can arise, and vice versa. It is also possible that multiple symbologies per the same object may exist within the Bible, and that other, later philosophies which were antithetical to feminine wisdom and equality may have tainted our perception of some of those passages.
I like Ms. Kidd's focus, too, on moving past anger and channeling emotion and energy into action. This is a concept which we'd all do well to imitate. She also acknowledges the importance of allowing for diversity and solidarity between women, and realizes that we are not all the same person with a different shell. All in all, I enjoyed the book and found value in it, though I do not agree with everything within it and though I relate more to the general concepts than to Ms. Kidd's specific experience.
- Disposable Diapers
- Air Conditioning
- Reliable Contraception
- Automatic Dishwashers
- Fast Wifi
- Background Noise
- Cherry Sodas
- Flowers (the cut-and-tied-with-ribbon kind; in their natural state, and not in my house, flowers are lovely.)
- Large Parties
- Out-of Diaper Experiences (in my house, this is where you poop in your diaper and manage to get it all over your crib, sheets, walls, etc as well.)
Saturday, July 20, 2013
I hear comments like "christians should show compassion for and solidarity with Black America" and I think: Really? I was under the impression that there wasn't a Black America and a White America, but that there was just ... America. To label everyone subjectively identified as "black" as Black America (and, in this context, to assume that they view this case a certain way) is to say that all black people are part of a monolithic color group which defines them, their opinions, and their feelings. I know that I, as a white person, would be a little offended if someone made those assumptions about me, spoke about compassion and solidarity with white america as if there is such a thing, and assumed that because I am white I identify with the parties with lighter skin, regardless of the specifics of the case.
Equally frustrating is the assumption that in order to avoid the racist label, one must side with the black person, or that because a black person was killed by a hispanic person who sounded white, this is de facto a case of racism against black people. (There are plenty of examples of that without adding cases which do not apply to it, I'm sad to say.) I find the notion inconceivable that showing christian compassion equals eulogizing and misrepresenting and that siding against the closest thing to a white male in this case is automatically more compassionate. Perhaps everyone really believes in misinformation that paints the parties as a racist man and an innocent kid, (as opposed to two really, REALLY stupid men) but I find that hard to believe.
We should show compassion for the police chief (and his family) who lost his job for refusing to charge a man who he believed was innocent, and for George Zimmerman and his family- while George committed no crimes, he did not make the smart decision at a key point, and for this his life is in danger, his career wrecked, and his family in hiding. He truly deserves our compassion. The family of Trayvon deserves our compassion as well- losing a child is always horrible, no matter how old the child is, how troubled, or what the child has done. Even youths who abuse drugs and turn to crime should receive our compassion and our support, though this does not negate the consequences for their actions. We don't need to lie about who Trayvon was, or who Zimmerman is, to show them compassion. We should pray for the Zimmerman family in the shambles they are in, hope that painful but valuable lessons were learned, and help them where we can. We should pray for other young men and women who, like Trayvon, are running down a path which can only be destructive to them and their families. We need to make sure that young people who come from broken homes, who struggle with addictions, who are headed toward a life of crime, have a safe place in the Church where they may find counseling, support, and mentorship. Most of all, we should stop the racism, be it against whatever color, for it helps no one. We are all made in the image of God and equally valuable as part of God's human creation. Had the survivors been reversed, this case would have been just as tragic.
Our christian duty of compassion should extend to all, regardless of race, gender, orientation, ethnicity, location, socio-economic status, or whatever. This compassion is not incompatible with, and indeed is intimately connected to, shining truth on the situations in which we find ourselves. Divisive rhetoric from either side is not compatible with compassion, but honest evaluation of facts and issues is. Truth in love is not racism, and refusing to slow down, listen, and self-examine is not a sign of strength.
Tuesday, July 16, 2013
George Zimmerman is hispanic, but has been referred to as "white hispanic." Trayvon Martin was black. simply because of this fact, there were riots, protests, and "retaliation attacks" on whites by blacks with the aggressors citing TM as their impetus for the attack. The media paints TM as a nice kid who was just out for a snack and was profiled and shot for being a young black male in the wrong place at the wrong time. However.... the evidence does not support that theory.
For one thing, in the media blitz, Trayvon is often represented as a cherubic 12 year old or labeled a "child". In reality, he was a physical match, perhaps more than, for Zimmerman. A key witness for the prosecution actually changed her testimony after learning that the "big guy" was TM- she said that the "guy on top was clearly bigger", and she assumed that was Z, because TM was "just a little kid." Well.... not really. TM was 3 inches taller than Z, and roughly 20 lbs lighter.
It is also possible that TM actually was related to a recent string of robberies in Z's neighborhood, as Z feared. (Z's neighborhood had seen many recent break ins, robberies, etc committed primarily by young, black men, so when Z saw behavior from TM that appeared consistent with "casing the joint", Z had reason to believe TM was up to no good.) "He's just staring, looking at all the houses," said Z. TM's background is pertinent here: On October 21, 2011, he received his second suspension of that school year. A security guard at his school had seen TM writing on a locker, and in looking through TM's bag for the marker, the guard discovered 12 pieces of jewelry, a watch, and a screwdriver described as a "burglary tool". Also, there were incriminating pictures on TM's phone, not released to the defense when they should have been, one of which was of a pile of jewelry on his bed.
In the media, TM is portrayed as an innocent youth who went out for snacks for his brother and never came home. The background we have on him does not seem to support this conclusion.
"Trayvon had "statistic" written all over him. In the past year or so, his social media sites showed a growing interest in drugs, in mixed martial arts-style street fighting, in a profoundly vulgar exploitation of "bitches."
Trayvon posed for one photo with a raised middle finger, another with wads of cash held in an out-stretched arm....
(this post says that a YouTube video shows him refereeing a fight club-style street fight, (I saw the video, and I can't tell if it's actually him or not) and that a cousin had recently tweeted him, "Yu ain't tell me yu swung on a bus driver," meaning, if true, that Trayvon had punched out a bus driver. It also speculates that the two items he purchased were two of the necessary ingredients for a homemade codeine-based drug he was fond of, if his facebook posts can be believed. The concoction was known as Lean. (since his facebook posts are no longer available, this is pure supposition. I've seen screenshots of the posts, but their validity is difficult to prove. They do seem to be from his actual facebook account, but they could have been altered pretty easily.)
In popular media, we have seen George Zimmerman's life dissected, from his study of Florida law to his possible ambitions to a career in law enforcement, his knowledge of and ownership of guns, etc. He is painted as an overeager, wannabe vigilante, and a racist one at that. He may well be all of those things, but why, I wonder, was the same scrutiny not placed on Trayvon Martin? (Not to say I'm glorifying Z here either- I think he acted like a complete idiot- but then, I think they both did.) Why the one-sided media campaign, even to the point of editing Zimmerman's call transcripts an recordings and photoshopping the police photos to remove evidence of injury? Why the protesting, the electric dialogue of race and privilege? Why was the police chief who refused to charge Z without grounds fired? Why was the DA who refused to charge him replaced? Why did the President side with TM, when he knew practically nothing of the details of the case? Either party could have ended it without any violence happening- TM by not returning to confront the "creepy ass cracker", and Z by staying in his vehicle until the real cops arrived. Why did the president issue the following statement:
"The death of Trayvon Martin was a tragedy. Not just for his family, or for any one community, but for America. I know this case has elicited strong passions. And in the wake of the verdict, I know those passions may be running even higher. But we are a nation of laws, and a jury has spoken. I now ask every American to respect the call for calm reflection from two parents who lost their young son. And as we do, we should ask ourselves if we’re doing all we can to widen the circle of compassion and understanding in our own communities. We should ask ourselves if we’re doing all we can to stem the tide of gun violence that claims too many lives across this country on a daily basis. We should ask ourselves, as individuals and as a society, how we can prevent future tragedies like this. As citizens, that’s a job for all of us. That’s the way to honor Trayvon Martin."-Barack Obama
One word: Racism.
It is racist to assume that because Zimmerman is not black, he would automatically racially (as opposed to criminally- they're not the same) profile and fear a black man. It is racist to side with Trayvon, in the face of evidence of his culpability, because he was black. It is racist to vilify one party and extol another, without knowing the details, and basing that decision solely on the races involved. It is racist to give Zimmerman's life now lived as a hermit and in shambles no thought, just because he is not Black. If Zimmerman had been black, his life would not be in danger. If he were black, or even if his name sounded less white, he would not have had to go through the ordeal he faced, and still faces. His family would be safe, he would be working, and he would not fear unjust prosecution- if he were just a little less white.
In summary- If Mr. Zimmerman were a little less white, his life would not be the testament to American racism that it is today. From the President down, I have seen some shamefully racist responses and assumptions, and it's embarrassing. The facts of a case should matter more than the political implications of it, the actions of the parties involved more than their skin color, and if we could go back to "innocent until proven guilty"..... that would be nice. Making something about race that never was, harming innocent people in the process, co-opting an unrelated situation to highlight social issues like guns, violence against or by black men, etc, or glorifying a person because of their race... those things are racist and do nothing but contribute to the racism we still have here. This case should have been about two men who were desperately in need of some common sense, discretion, and calm reasoning; about a man who put himself in the position to be attacked because of his own stupidity, (Z) and who was then in the position to have to use his weapon in self-defense. Nobody wins, and the death of a person is always a serious thing, but the case, truly, has nothing to do with white-on-black racism.
Racism is an ugly thing in all its forms. Black people have faced a lot of it in this country, as have Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, Arabs, Jews, etc. But- the solution is not to turn the tables into the racism against Whites that we see here! Far from it. The solution is to see each other as people, not colors- to demand nothing, give up nothing, expect nothing, and silently endure nothing because of our race. Race should tell us nothing about a person but the colors which look best on their skin tone and the ease with which they sunburn- and even there, it's hardly an exact science. A black person is no less capable or intelligent than a white person, and a white person is no more disposed to prejudice than is a black person. We are born in our bodies- we should embrace them in all their beauty and diversity. We cannot change them, nor ought we to try. But our actions, our words, our culture- that we can change.
Race does not make us criminals, or poor, or privileged, or oblivious to the less fortunate, or educated, or uneducated, or smart, or uncivilised, or more or less worthy, capable, or successful. We are responsible for that ourselves. So let's not blame our actions or circumstances, or those of others, on race. Color is just that. As Christians, we have all the more responsibility to be just and fair in our dealings. Jesus taught humility and solidarity with all believers- rich, poor, jew, roman, greek, slaves, free, men, women.... there is no racism, and no arbitrary privilege, in the kingdom of heaven. We all have lenses through which we view our world- these lenses should be inspected for racism and other prejudices regularly, no matter what race, gender, or class we are. We are not the same, but we are of equal value. We are individuals, not colors, or genders, or sizes, or anything else. We may not have the same gifts and talents and abilities as everyone around us, but those things are not handed out based on characteristics like race or gender. We are responsible individuals and beloved of God. Let's act like it.
For video of the trial, go here.
Tuesday, July 9, 2013
Sunday, July 7, 2013
Mat 6:28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.
Modesty is taught in scripture, and as it is taught there it is an important lesson for both men and women. The sort of modesty we find in the bible, however, has nothing to do with covering skin or sexuality of any sort. Rather, biblical modesty is synonymous with simplicity, humility, and having the right priorities.
(1Ti 2:8-10) I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling; likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness--with good works.
(1Pe 3:3-4) Do not let your adorning be external--the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear-- but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God's sight is very precious.
I see this as an admonition to Christians to resist the temptation to be obsessed with the latest fashions and the temptation to put all our resources into maintaining a competitive appearance. It is natural to want to be beautiful, and admired, but the most important adornment for a Christian is our heart of love and service and the good works which flow from it.
Matthew Henry says, "Those that profess godliness should, in their dress, as well as other things, act as becomes their profession; instead of laying out their money on fine clothes, they must lay it out in works of piety and charity, which are properly called good works."
(Jas 2:2-4) For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, "You sit here in a good place," while you say to the poor man, "You stand over there," or, "Sit down at my feet," have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?
Also, dressing in such a way as to be situationally appropriate, simple, and pleasant without demanding a spotlight is an art form that we all, men and women, should attempt to practice. This has less to do with sexiness or coverage, and more to do with cultural context, practicality, and intentional simplicity, in my opinion. And, simple needn't be drab; it's more the antithesis of gaudy, extravagant, or garish. A two piece swimsuit can well fit into this paradigm at the beach, but the most covering, sexless swimsuit would not be the best choice for worship or school or a funeral, as the loveliest church dress would probably be inappropriate while working in the food bank or weeding the garden.
Friday, July 5, 2013
First, Nathan- can you tell us a little bit about yourself? I would love to hear what your church background is, what you were taught as a kid about modesty, etc.......
Well, before we get into history and background, and I associate myself and family with some pretty crazy ideas I want to make your audience aware of something. Despite the issues I have with some of the Fundamentalist doctrines and dogmas I was taught, I have to clearly state that I hold no animosity toward my parents. Without their instruction I would have no basis for the reevaluation and evolution of my faith. My parents lived out an honest system and eminently equipped me with instruction including both a love for God and the Bible, and critical thinking and logic. These are the tools of strong faith that also enable me to defend and support that faith. In short, without my parents and their instruction I would be lost.
I was raised in various fundamentalist evangelical churches. My earliest memories of church involve me sitting (or standing) in a pew in the Fairview Primitive Baptist Church it was a very conservative and exclusionary doctrine, closed communion, a capella hymnal music, and hard core 5 point Calvinism.
Through growth and their own spiritual exploration (including a very real move to another state) my parents began attending a PCA church (Presbyterian Church of America, again a conservative, Calvinistic environment but more liberal than the Primitive Baptist Church). As my parents eyes were opened to the untruths and false dogmas they had been taught, our family became a part of a small church that corporately was exploring what it meant to walk in the gifts of the Holy Spirit and to move out of some very rigid dogma. Looking back this church was in a state of flux from its inception There were at least four different families with a modicum of leadership and each family had its own direction to go. Each family had its own ideas about Christianity and modesty so I was exposed to everything from hijab-like modesty standards to shorts and a tank top.
My parents raised me with a respect for other people and were very open in discussion regarding attraction to/from the opposite sex and any details I needed regarding sex. I count myself very lucky because throughout their teaching (particularly early on) they were able to impart a respect of the body and not associate it with shame and sin.
As I approached puberty my family joined ATI/IBLP. With that curriculum and environment the standards of modesty required by our family were elevated in public for the sake of conformity to the standard set by the program. My parents never bought into the ATI/IBLP ideas completely. They would always warn us children about the danger of legalism and a works (conformity) based gospel. However as immature children we did not really understand and so we let the curriculum and peer pressure drive our standards. My parents, (I think they did not understand the damage it could cause) allowed false ideas of modesty to fester and grow.
Do you believe that modesty is a fixed standard or a relative one?
Easy answer, and short. Modesty is a relative standard.
I really don't know anyone that would seriously argue that it isn't (granted I don't know many people in the grand scheme of things.) The ones I know might argue that since we don't know if/what God's modesty standard is we should be as modest as possible. However that is an impossible argument based on arbitrary opinion.
What do you think about the concept of modesty as it relates to our responsibility for others? Do you think that christian women have a responsibility to dress modestly so as not to be a stumbling block to their brothers in Christ?
No. All individuals have a responsibility to dress in praise to the Creator. There are no special modesty requirements for women versus men, other than what may be legally dictated by society.
I put the responsibility for "stumbling" at the feet of the stumbler. If a man is going to sin by wallowing in a possessive lust because he saw a tank top and short shorts, he's gonna do it if he sees a navy jumper with a giant white collar. One of the great dangers of this overbearing focus on "not causing a brother to stumble" is that men are not taught self control. Men (especially young men and boys) begin to believe that they have no control over their primal desires. These ideas so focus men on the id that they forget about the ego and super ego, those tools the Creator gave us that allow men to be more than an animal. When I refer to "self control" I mean control over both emotions and rational thought. It is dangerous to teach young men that "self control" is to "flee youthful lusts" and to merely run from something they think is a sin. One day they won't be able to run and they will need to know how to control emotions with intellect rather than replacing one emotion (lust) with another (fear).
I can testify that both intellect and morals are active during libidinous excitement. I have personally had offers of an erotic nature made to me (it was before I was married and the individuals making the offers were endowed with bodies fit to tempt) and it was no great (or small) thing to turn it down. My mind was perfectly able to respond to that emotional stimuli with rational thought. Man's intellect and morals can only be over ridden by our primal mind if we choose to let them be. If we have been trained to think that men revert to the primal nature when exposed to sex. Then when we (men) are exposed to sex our minds WILL revert to that primal nature because we have a perfect excuse to satisfy it.
How would you define "biblical" modesty, or the modesty that is mentioned in the New Testament?
Is there such a thing? If we take the Bible literally and use the biblical culturally specific mandates of modesty in the Bible, then women cannot braid their hair, wear jewelry or makeup, or wear any clothes or uniform that is worn by men. The danger here is that if we are that literal with scripture in one place, to be consistent we must be just as literal EVERYWHERE ELSE in the Bible; including stoning disobedient children and innocent people whose only crime was being related to an oathbreaker (Joshua 7).
If however we take the view that those "modesty" references are culturally specific, then the Bible really has no "opinion" on modesty. Instead it deals with personal responsibility Philippians 2:1-9.
What are the responsibilities of men when it comes to modesty? What are the responsibilities of women? Do the two differ?
The responsibilities of men are exactly the same as the responsibilities of women in regard to modesty. There is no difference. Modesty is not about the clothes worn, but personal conduct. The idea of "modesty" is cheapened when it is only about the physical accoutrements.
How has working in a service field affected your view of modesty and temptation?
It hasn't affected my views of modesty at all. Modesty is a factor of personal and social responsibility and morality. Temptation also is a factor of personal morality and opinion. Having worked in the service field for several years I was regularly exposed to scenarios that could/would be considered to "immodest" or "tempting". However, due to the differences in personal opinion, temptation is impossible to define by any specific behavior or action. I could be tempted by something that another person would find innocuous and vice versa.
I do think my work in the service field gave me a great deal of practice in exercising modesty for myself and in self control. It was being exposed to things that tempted me which proved and crystallized the instruction I received as a child. It was in those times, when I had a responsibility to my employer to stay near a temptation, when I realized that control of my emotional responses was a necessity, not a luxury.
Do you believe that men and women have different sexual needs and struggle with different sorts of temptation? Err, No.
Why or why not? Because it is the acme of foolishness to define temptation or what constitutes a "sexual need" by gender. Two randomly selected men will have as divergent of views on what constitutes temptation, as a randomly selected woman and man. As far as "sexual needs" go they are such personal ideas that they cannot be quantified by gender.
How do you define lust? Is it possible to be attracted to or notice a physical form without lusting?
In the Bible the word "lust" is defined in a multitude of ways including everything from a flame or glow, to a covetous, possessive desire, synonymous with the word "covet" in the 10th commandment. The word translated "lust" in Matt 5:28 is not just sexual thoughts. It is a covetous response to temptation. It is a possessive thing that goes way beyond temptation or even thoughts of a sexual nature. To be sexually attracted to an individual is not the same as a desire to own or possess that person. To have thoughts of a sexual nature about a person is not possessive covetousness. But, if we dwell on those thoughts and allow them free reign in our mind it can quickly lead to a possessive, covetous lust. However, the initial sexual attraction and subsequent thought response is not automatically lust.
And that, folks, is Husband's take. :)