Sermonette notes, 6-9-01, Ann Arbor, MI, UCG Eric Snow
Let’s consider the broader implications of an utterly trivial incident. 15-year-old girl crosses street in front of my stopped car at streetlight in Hamtramck. Wears long but slitted dress in the side, get full view of legs as crosses street in front of me. The fashion does “work,” for her, since tall and then, since one can see the appeal. Paris/New York elite dress designers traditionally men, does catch a man’s attention since unsteady, unpredictable what is seen when, unlike a miniskirt. One author, apparently a Jewish woman, named Wendy Shalit recently wrote a book called “A Return to Modesty: Discovering the Lost Virtue.” She mentioned in one presentation at Hillsdale College summarized in their free magazine Imprimis commented about the same fashions: “We can observe it [natural modesty] on any windy day when women wearing slit skirts hobble about comically to avoid showing their legs—the very legs those fashionable skirts are designed to reveal. Despite trying to keep up with the fashions, these women have a natural instinct for modesty.”
Should a Christian woman wear such a fashionable dress? So what does it mean to be modest? What are the implications of attempting to avoid showing it too much, or showing off?
S.P.S. Christians should aspire to practicing the virtue of modesty in their personal lives, instead of merely giving it lip-service.
I Tim. 2:9
The hazards of specifics. This is what gets people excited. It’s easy to say, “Yes, Paul is right.” It’s quite another to go against something that’s appealing in the world’s culture that looks good. Yet we naturally tend to go along with the flow, and bring the world into the church. We live in the world, and see what our neighbors, friends, and co-workers do, and naturally tend to take it for granted. Worse yet, those accepting things from the world who are Christians in the church could exert pressure on others in the church to go along with what actually may be questionable or even clearly prohibited by God’s word.
SDA example, Joe Crews, “Reaping the Whirlwind.” SDA’s see themselves as Laodicea, more humble approach the more spiritually productive. Since we traditionally saw ourselves as Philadelphia and said Laodicea went into the tribulation, tended to point at someone else.
“At one recent [c. 1985] camp meeting, a beautiful Christian mother shared her concern for her teenage daughter who wandered the grounds dressed in very, very tight jeans. The mother was a recent convert and her husband was a communist who did not even believe in God. Yet he objected violently to his daughter’s provocative attire. Our convert was puzzled that the spiritual leaders of her new church did not seem to recognize a violation of modesty which her atheist husband could see clearly. What a commentary on the blindness produced by exposure to the world! And we become more blind as we adjust to a toleration of that which we know to be wrong.” (p. 30).
Lemmings after fashion. The Galbraith/Veblen/Croly liberal critique of fashion. Why must we so arbitrarily follow what these people in Paris and New York decree?
Consider now one specific I’m going to pounce on: Are bikinis for swimwear really acceptable? Would Paul think a Christian woman could wear a miniskirt “modestly and discreetly”? Such questions need to be asked, even if the answers produced are uncomfortable because they may cause us to admit we bought clothing we shouldn’t have, in which we would look good in.
[Doug’s] criticism of low-cut dresses at spring dance(s) years ago. Surprised they would be worn. Women can be assured men’s eyes will find that crucial spot when such outfits are worn.
Use Daumier lithograph here. Age doesn’t matter, or stop the male imagination, even when the woman is fully clothed. Universal characteristic.
Naturally, the main duty here falls on the man to avert his eyes and change his thoughts. Need to avoid being conspicuous in doing so, might be thought self-righteous or a prude by the woman if noticed. The Jew who wouldn’t talk to a middle-aged woman in the church when seated on a flight next to each other: overkill.
The Muslims have a point, headscarves and loose clothing and veils and all, but an overkill. Similar thing with Samuele Bacchiocchi’s book “Christian Dress and Adornment,” prohibition on jewelry, even wedding rings. (Anti-dancing, theater-going, drinking, etc. tradition there). Should avoid going from one extreme to the other, one ditch across the middle of the road to the other.
Use examples at work: [Darlene vs. Lisa, don’t say actual names!] dowdy, same 4 blouses, vs. sharp, professional, but sometimes too revealing.
Some women not aware necessarily of male attention: use example of [Lauren], one girl whose boyfriend saw men looking at her all the time in public settings, but she was oblivious. Most apparently not so naïve. Feminist “sex object” criticism largely justified. Singles activities characterized as “meat markets” in the church due to way single men would look at single women.
Unfair burden involved, but . . . My sister’s criticism, disliked being judged by appearance as to her character or availability when too casually dressed. Problem of male vs. female ways of being attracted to one another, not same, women have to keep in mind the differences.
Problem of intentions: Men judge by appearance. Know how prostitutes will dress when plying their trade, know women will calculatingly dress in a way to catch their attention when want it. QD shift manager’s comment that women wanted men to look at her on woman in very low cut outfit in store to me when I said I avoided trying to look, etc., while waiting on her. Yet problem of often no intention involved with too-casual/revealing clothing (my sister’s complaint), but still get “hit on” or judged or eyed anyway when dress casually to (say) grab the newspaper outside or mail or go to store nearby or while running, etc.
Men not totally exempt, despite differences in female psychology: Diet Pepsi commercial, construction worker outside lusted after by women in office.
*If a woman attracts a man on this basis, can backfire since the physical put out front, not the spiritual, intellectual, or emotional, as the means of attraction. As Wendy Shalit commented, many secular women are reembracing modesty because immodesty didn’t work: “In short, they weren’t successful [in] finding the right men.”
*The more precious something is, the more it needs to conceal itself, protect itself. Why nudism not natural since move to privacy key aspect of civilization, to not be stared at in public by others in the “tribe.” When cover up the external or superficial, the physical we all have in common, “we send a message that what is most important are our singular hearts and minds. This separates us from the animals, and always did, long before the Victorian era.”
Warning, commandment to priests given, not obsolete today in its implications for us:
Ex. 20:26: “And you shall not go up by steps to my altar, that your nakedness may not be exposed on it.”