Thursday, June 11, 2009

Does dressing modestly make us more holy?

Today, I was reading the story of a Christian woman in Texas who decided to see what it would be like to wear the hijab (the traditional Muslim head scarf) for a year (if you are following me on Twitter, you might have seen the link from one of my tweets earlier in the day). This story really interested me for a few reasons - one of which was that I recently traveled to the Middle Eastand saw many women who wore the hijab and other forms of covering to dress modestly (but, I must also mention, very beautifully and elegantly in many cases). Check out this excerpt from the article:

Wall has grown to appreciate this sort of privacy and, in some ways, respect it. Perhaps the most unexpected outcome of the experience is a newfound devotion to her Christian faith. The Islamic faith requires followers to pray five times a day, the first prayer being at 5 a.m. Though Wall has not yet assumed this tradition, she admits she may in the future, and finds herself praying more often.

“You know we live in a society that is very unconscious of daily religious activities,” she said. “Throughout this experience, I have noticed myself becoming much more aware of God.”
(Just to be tongue in cheek, why do we never talk about men dressing modestly... or is that besides the point? After all, can't women be tempted by a fine looking male form? But that's another story...)

Actually, Christianity also has a long history of covering up. My best friend's mother was raised in the Catholic church, and she tells stories of having to cover her head when going to services (and that if you forgot your head covering, which looked like a little lace doily, you had to use a Kleenex!) Catholic nuns and sisters, Mennonites, the Amish, and many other sects have a modest dress code, some covering their heads as well.

When I traveled in the Middle East, I didn't wear a head scarf, but I did dress modestly, mostly in long sleeves and long, loose trousers or a long skirt. I don't know if it made me feel any more religious, especially as covering up in this way isn't part of our religious tradition, but then again, I'm a pastor, so I generally dress pretty modestly anyway! I then got to thinking about some of the things I see people wearing, even to church, in the heat of summer - shorts, tube tops, tank tops, and maybe I'm a traditionalist here, but I do think that these kinds of outfits don't really fit the worshipful atmosphere.

Maybe it's less about being "modest" per se and more about being appropriate, reverent, and making sure that people around you aren't uncomfortable. If you saw someone preaching in a mini skirt, it could be pretty distracting! We don't dress that way for work, so why should we dress that way for church? At the same time, some women go in the other direction - dressing up a lot for church so that they can show off their expensive duds. That, too, is a distraction, and detracts from the prayerful atmosphere.

To sum up, I am not really settled on whether dressing far more modestly makes women more holy. If modest dress is part of your religious observance, I imagine that it would remind you more regularly of your faith and be a devotion and mediation. I'm probably still going to wear my bikini at the beach when I have the opportunity, but at the same time, I'm going to think about my appearance from the modesty perspective, making sure I appear respectful and reverent, and that I'm not causing a distraction or a temptation for anyone with what I'm wearing in public. (And it probably goes without mentioning, but in private, all bets are off!) After all, it is a wonderful feeling for other people to listen to you and respect you not because of what you look like, but because of the goodness they see in you and the graceful message they hear in your words!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Holy Feet! (Part 1 in a nearly infinite series on "Parts of the Whole")

When I finally returned home this evening after a long day, much of it spent on my feet, I started to think about the many parts of the body and how each part of us has its own purpose in enabling us to be servants, worshippers, and witnesses. Thinking about my feet, at the very bottom tip of the body, made me think of a few other things:

1. The body's connectedness, and how this is often mentioned in the Bible (for example, 1 Corinthians 12, which uses the connected body as a symbol of the faithful church)

2. That as I meditate on the various parts of the body, these thoughts would make great blog posts and ideas for things to meditate upon in small groups.

Feet are especially meaningful to me for a few reasons. One of those is that last year, around this time of the summer, I was suffering from a foot injury that took me off of my feet for a few months! The worst part about it was that I sustained the injury from overuse, not being careful, and not taking care of my feet as I should have been. Throughout the time of recovery, I thought often of how important the feet are and how grateful I am for the ability to use them.

In the Bible, feet can be powerful:

Feet can be fast and at the ready:

Restoring someone's ability to walk and the health of their feet is also a powerful motion of Jesus's healing powers that occurs many times in the Gospel.

Meditating on feet, how are our own feet powerful, beautiful, or ready to help us be bearers of God's word? Do our feet carry us forth to bring good news to others? And are we grateful for our feet, which we so often take for granted?

I've heard the saying that "when the feet hurt, the whole body hurts" - and for those of you who, like me, often find yourself walking around in high heels or other uncomfortable shoes, you know that it sometimes seems to be true! What are we doing to care for our holy feet? Are we keeping them as fit and ready as they can be to allow us to be swift carriers of Christ's news?

In closing, I wrote the following prayer as a meditation on feet. I'll nickname it the "Pedicure Prayer" because it asks the Lord to keep our feet ready, strong, and beautiful as the Bible verses above describe:

Lord Jesus,
Bless the feet of your disciple as she walks in your path.
May these feet have the power to overcome evil,
The beauty of bearing good news,
And the readiness to carry out your work,
Wherever you may lead them.

If you want to make a special ritual for your small group and have a "Holy Feet" day, why not wash each others' feet (a Biblical action of respect, refreshment, hospitality, and humility), pray together, and then put on some polish and conduct a Bible study as your toenails dry, all the while thinking of how you will use your feet to be a better messenger of Christ.

Monday, June 8, 2009

What does the Bible say about our bodies as temples?

Good morning, ladies! I've received many questions about the format of the small group meetings that I lead, and one of the most common questions I get is: "I have a group, but how do we get started thinking about our bodies as our temples?"

Maybe it's just because I am a pastor, but when I have a question on how to get started with something, I turn to the Bible.

Do you know where in the Bible the idea of the "body as temple" comes from? It's in 1 Corinthians 3:16: "Don't you know that you yourselves are God's temple and that God's Spirit lives in you?"

Along with being a big fan of the Bible, I'm also a fan of making lists. To get started, maybe your group wants to list out all of the qualities of a temple that would be a fit place for God's Spirit (the Holy Spirt) to dwell. When we first did this, we thought of the things that we do to make our physical church building a place for the Holy Spirit. I still have that list, and some of the ideas we had coming from that perspective were:
  • A strong and structurally sound building
  • A welcoming and open place
  • A place that is beautiful and calm
  • A place that is kind and giving
  • A building fit for many different purposes
  • A place that we have to take care of and maintain

If you're trying to think of how this applies to our "temples" as our physical selves, just try substituting "temple" (and thinking "body") in place of "building" -

  • A strong and structurally sound TEMPLE (are our temples strong? sound? fit?)
  • A welcoming and open TEMPLE (do we welcome people with our physical appearance and demeanor or do we shut them out or turn them away?)
  • A TEMPLE that is beautiful and calm (are we sending out "calm vibes" and are we thinking about how we appear to others, or are we harried and unkempt?)
  • A TEMPLE that is kind and giving (how do we use our bodies as vehicles for service and giving to our families and our communities?)
  • A TEMPLE fit for many different purposes (we have to use our bodies for many purposes, too - are we prepared for that?)
  • A TEMPLE that we have to take care of and maintain (are we maintaining our temples?)

That's a LOT to think about - so I'll save the rest for next time. What do you think? How does the way you treat your temple stack up against the dream you would have for a temple where the Holy Spirit would dwell?

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Made in the Image of God

In my line of work, I listen to a LOT of women. That probably doesn't surprise you. After all, I'm a woman, and I'm a pastor. Listening is part of my job, and I love it.

What kinds of things do women talk to me about? Faith is a big part of it - their convictions, their witness, their doubts, and their joys and fears. But for some reason, I seem to hear a lot about "other stuff" as well, stuff that many people don't fit into the "faith" box. What kinds of things fall into the "other stuff" category? Lots of women, both inside and outside of church, talk about their marriages and relationships, their self-image and self-esteem, the difficulties and joys of managing their careers and their households, and the pressures of raising a family.

Within this "other stuff" category, there are some things that are particularly hard to talk about, and yet they come up again and again. Recently, I've noticed that they all have to do with something that we don't talk a whole lot about at church - the physical manifestation of ourselves, something that is called a "temple", and something made in the image of God: our bodies.

That's right, ladies. Just like we need to keep our souls and thoughts strong, pure, and directed, we need to focus on our bodies. If we didn't have our physical selves, we would find it awfully difficult to do many of the things we do for our families, our faith communities, our colleagues, and our friends.

I started, with a small group of my closest women friends in faith, to think about this idea of our bodies as temples and how we can glorify God through our physical selves. We call our small group "Our Temples, Ourselves." We started to list out all of the issues we have with our bodies, all of the things we would like to do physically and would like to have for our health and physical well-being, and all of the domains that our physical selves influence and touch. This small group has been an amazing source of support as we have each tried to reach new levels of health and faith for ourselves. This blog is my way of reaching out to a larger audience - all of you - to talk about the same kinds of things and to invite a wider conversation about how, as women of the Word, we can bear stronger witness to our faith as spiritual, physical beings.