Wednesday, June 18, 2014

How to Have an Opinion

The advent and development of the Internet as we know it today has irrevocably revolutionized our world.

I begin with this rather obvious statement because I want you to consider its truth.  The Internet HAS revolutionized our world in countless ways--some good, some bad, some neutral, and some that can go either way.  I want you to stew with me on one of those "it could go either way" ideas for a moment.

One can find many things on the Internet.  In recent months, I have come across something that is almost as ubiquitous on the Internet as the selfie and that might even be connected to the selfie in some Freudian, sub-conscious sort of way.  I am referring to opinions.  There is no shortage of opinions to be found on the web.  One can find them in the tweets, posts, articles, and comments of the smartest and most celebrated among us, in those of your "average Joe" and, more often than not, in the online ramblings of someone simply referred to as "anonymous."  Opinion is alive, well, and circulating freely on the fiber optic cables that make up our virtual landscape.  The "information superhighway" (remember when it was called that?) has provided just about any person on earth with the capability to voice their opinion and make it available for anyone else to consider. (Take this blog as a case in point.)  This may be a good thing.  Or, it may be a really, really bad thing.

Consider this.

What one cannot find quite as easily on the Internet as opinions is respect, courtesy, deference, and genuine, healthy dialogue or debate about those opinions.  Many of the opinions offered online are structured and promoted in such a way that they create strife, resentment, and isolation.  They are a platform for aggrandizement of self and belittlement of others.  They degenerate into a rhetorical game of chicken rather than serving as a sincere search for truth.  I stand among the accused on this particular point.  I have never had much difficulty offering my opinion--particularly behind the shield of a computer screen.  Unfortunately, I have crossed the proverbial line on several occasions--even to the point of losing friends in the Facebook sense of the word.  It strikes me that most people don't need to be taught to form opinions.  We seem to be hardwired to do so.  I wonder, however, if we could all use some lessons/reminders about how to have our opinions.  That is--about how to hold them and about how to offer them for others to consider.

To that end, I would like to offer some basic guidelines.  These are, of course, just my opinion, so please take them as such.

1.  Remember the source and progression of opinions.

Whenever I watch a movie that deals with racial inequality and bigotry, I end up asking myself the same, penetrating question, "What would I have believed and how would I have acted if I lived in the 1860's or even the 1960's?"  Of course, I want to believe that I would have been enlightened and progressive in my thinking.  I want to believe that I would never have succumbed to the ugliness of racism.  I am haunted by the fact, however, that it is probable, had I been born several decades or more earlier than I was, that I would have adhered to the racial creeds of the day.  That is, I probably would have been a bigot.  This is just a simple calculation based on the color of my skin and the social status of my family tree.  I don't like that thought, but I cannot categorically deny it either.

My point is that our systems of belief (our opinions) are, to a significant extent, the product of our cultural context--our upbringing, our social status, our circle of friends, etc...  Of course, everyone wants to believe that their opinions are well-grounded, logically sound, and devoid of any sentimental attachment.  We want to believe that we believe what we believe because it is the truth.  In some cases, this is an accurate assessment.  In many cases, however, we believe what we believe for reasons that are far less pristine and rational.  This doesn't necessarily mean your beliefs are wrong.  It does mean that it is incumbent upon all of us to remember the source of our opinions and of those we encounter.  Everyone has a story, and opinions are intricately intertwined in the details of that story as it unfolds.

Speaking of unfolding stories, it is also essential to remember that opinions are like bodies.  They grow, mature, strengthen, weaken, and change dramatically over the years.  You haven't always thought the way you think now, and you probably won't think exactly the same way in 20 years that you do now.  (At least, I hope you don't.)  We all would do well to remember this in our interactions with others and their ideas.

2.  Remember to separate the opinion from the one holding it.

This may sound contradictory to my first point.  I just got through telling you to remember that our opinions are closely aligned with who we are.  This is true.  It is also true, however, that we must evaluate the veracity of an opinion based on the merits of the opinion itself and not based on the person who is offering it.  To put this another way--if something is true, it is true regardless of who says it or supports it.  Once again, we all want to believe that we disagree with someone else because they are wrong.  Could it be, however, that sometimes we disagree with them because we just don't like them?  There are few things in life that are more irritating than when someone we consider to be from "the other side" offers an idea that makes logical sense and adds up in our mind.  It is difficult to admit it when our nemesis is right, but this we must do.

I believe that many followers of Jesus and right-wing conservatives encounter this difficulty in discussions of politics.  "Obama Bashing" has become quite fashionable in these circles, and I see it nearly every day on my Facebook feed.  I will concede the point that many of his policies and decisions (in my opinion) are unwise and counter-productive.  I don't like his politics.  I do not believe, however, that "everything that man says is a lie" or that every action his administration has taken or will take is wrong.  Is the right side of the field (or the left for that matter) intellectually honest enough to admit that even a broken clock is right twice a day?  (Although according to comedian Stephen Wright scientists are working on a broken clock that is right three times a day.)

3.  Remember that there is a right way to be right.

I am finding myself becoming more distant from and disillusioned by professional sports.  My concern is not with the talent or level of play in our professional leagues.  In many sports, these are at the highest level they have ever been.  My concern is that I am seeing far less grace and sportsmanship than I used to.  (That makes me sound so old!)  Even my beloved game of college basketball seems to have slipped into the mire of arrogant chest-thumping and trash-talking.  I don't like it.  I don't like it at all.  I'm not sure that the old adage is true that says, "It's not whether you win or lose, it's how you play the game that matters."  No, I believe it is important to play to win, but even in your pursuit of victory and excellence, I believe it is essential to win honorably and gracefully.  I just don't see a lot of this on ESPN these days.

In our online or in-person discussions, let us all remember that you can be right but in a way that is wrong.  Strive for grace and sportsmanship when you spar with others in the comments section of your favorite blog or virtual water cooler.  Spirited debate should not and does not preclude the possibility of civility and respect.  Play to win, but win with style.

4.  Remember to admit the possibility that you might be wrong.

Of all the opinions I am offering in this article, this is the one that I fear may elicit the most disagreement.  Personally, I believe it is essential in any conflict of ideas (no matter how major) to admit and accept the possibility (however slim it may be) that you might be on the wrong side.  I am not implying that one should harbor doubts about her position.  I am not asserting that one should hold his beliefs weakly or in a perpetual state of flux.  I am not proposing a relativistic, post-modern ideal in which every opinion is equally true.  That, of course, is preposterous.  In just about any debate, there is a wrong side and a right side.  (Although the point should be made that it is foolish to make the reductionist "either-or" error.  Many of us need to open ourselves to the possibility of "both-and" in many of our discussions.)

What I am saying is that it is critical for us as fallen, finite beings to admit at least the possibility that we might be wrong.  Why is it critical?  Because, the fact is, we might be wrong.  If one gets to a point where they feel that at least some of their opinions are infallible, that person has placed himself in a position of stunted growth--both personally and relationally.  The opportunity for productive, healthy dialogue evaporates the moment someone says, "I am right and there is no possibility otherwise!"  Personally, I make a habit of disengaging with anyone who cannot admit the possibility of error in a certain opinion.  Why waste my time or theirs?  It's pointless to move any further in the discussion.

I think this is especially important for my fellow followers of Jesus to consider.  The fact that I believe the Bible to be infallible does not imply that I as a student of the Bible am also infallible.  Yet, this is exactly how Christians often come across to each other and to those outside our faith.  Remember that it is our faith not our knowledge that forms the basis of our religious system and our relationship with God.  I don't know that God is not dead.  I don't know that heaven is for real.  I don't know that Jesus is alive.  I believe each of those things, but I don't know them.  For the record, I feel that my belief is well-founded, but it is still only belief.  The atheists, the Hindus, or anyone else might be right.  I might be wrong.  To deny this possibility is to deny the nature of our worldview and to exclude the possibility of connecting with and genuinely impacting those who don't share our beliefs.


The next time you begin to launch into an online tirade about your favorite soap-box topic, will you take a moment to consider the ideas I've offered here?  I hope that you will.  I believe there is much truth to what I've said in these paragraphs.

But I might be wrong...

Thursday, January 2, 2014

3 Things I Will Never Give My Children

In previous posts, I have intentionally used misleading titles to lure web surfers into reading my content.  As I begin this post, it occurs to me that my title today may evoke certain ideas in my readers about my content that are inaccurate.  I am not intentionally trying to be misleading so let me clarify right from the outset.  This is not an article about vaccinations, violent video games, or genetically modified food (Sorry, I couldn't think of another "V" word).  Those are things I might not give my children, but they are not my focus here.  The three items on my list today are not bad things.  On the contrary, they are actually quite good things.  The reason I will never give these things to my children is not because I won't by choice but because I can't by nature.  As the holiday and gift-giving season is wrapping up, I have been thinking about and spending a lot of time with my kids.  It has occurred to me that there are several items I would love to give them as a parent but I simply cannot.  I submit them here for your consideration:

1.  True Happiness - Some people are adverse to the idea of giving gifts at Christmas time because they resent the commercialization of what is supposed to be a spiritual celebration.  I can certainly understand their sentiments.  For our family, however, we view Christmas as an excellent opportunity to celebrate and reflect the goodness of God's gifts to us by giving gifts to others.  Thus, we buy Christmas gifts for our kids.  We certainly aren't extravagant, but we try to get each child several gifts including one "WOW" gift that will really surprise them.  This year was no exception.  In the days following our Christmas morning gift extravaganza, I have realized that the danger is not in the gifts we give our children but in the message we send to them.  My kids are still at the stage where they believe their possessions will make them happy.  (Truthfully, their parents still grapple with this lie as well.)  One of the challenges my wife and I face in our gift-giving is to help our children understand that the one present we cannot give them is contentment and true happiness.  They will have to find this for themselves, and they will not find it in a box or on a shelf somewhere.  Our job is to point them in the right direction and to reflect true happiness to them as we have found it ourselves.

2.  A Baggage-Free, Damage-Free Childhood - The Friday after Christmas, something occurred in my life that I have dreaded and feared for at least two years.  I dropped my iPad on a tile floor and irreparably cracked the glass on the multi-touch screen.  This may sound childish and materialistic (it probably is), but I almost started crying when I saw the damage.  Now, before you condemn my reaction as a selfish, first-world problem let me explain two things.  First, the iPad is not technically mine as it was purchased by my employer and I use it primarily for work purposes.  Second, it is really important to me to have a few things in my life that I keep in really nice, almost-new condition.  Having three young children makes this endeavor difficult, as you can imagine.  The iPad was one of those things that I really tried to protect and keep nice.  (For those who are wondering, the other ones also start with the letter "i".)  When I dropped the device, it bothered me because it was now damaged goods.  It still works just fine.  It does what I need it to do, although reading through a spider-web shaped crack gets annoying at times.  It just bothered me to have something that was less-than-perfect.

As parents of young children, my wife and I are trying our best to be thoughtful, careful, prayerful, and intentional as we guide our children to adulthood.  We refuse certain vaccinations (but not all).  We don't allow them to play violent video games.  We try to avoid most genetically-modified foods.  We attempt to be balanced, loving, and gracious while still being firm, consistent, and authoritative.  We try to allow them to be themselves while still confronting their depravity and pointing them to the Savior.  In short, we are trying our best to provide them with a baggage-free, damage-free childhood experience.  This is an admirable intention on our part, but I have reached the conclusion that it is an unattainable goal.  Despite our best intentions, my three kids will have mental/emotional/spiritual baggage through which they have to work as adults.  Much like my iPad, they will have cracks, dings, and dents in their lives.  Some of this will come from Danielle and me.  Some of it will come from other sources.  Either way, we have to understand that we cannot keep our kids in that new, out-of-the-box condition forever.  They will get damaged, but this is part of what makes our life-journeys so amazing.  God is an expert in working with cracked pots.

3.  Their Convictions, Beliefs, and Values - A few nights ago, my wife and I went on an impromptu trip to Longhorn Steakhouse for dinner.  During the course of the meal, we began having one of those New Year-type of discussions where we were evaluating how we are doing as parents and how we ought to change for the better.  We wrote down a list of values that we want to instill in our children.  The list included items like true spirituality, perseverance, an open/curious mind, gratitude, love for God, respect for others, creativity, etc...  As we made the list, we looked at each other and acknowledged the inconvenient truth that, despite our concerted efforts, there is no guarantee that our children will have or maintain these things throughout their adult life (Proverbs 22:6 notwithstanding).  The truth is, we cannot give any of these things to them.  We can simply model them to our kids through our own lives and emphasize them through the way we conduct our family life.  Beyond that, our only recourse is to pray and trust the hand of their Heavenly Father.

Coming to this understanding about our role as parents and the limitations of that role has actually been quite refreshing.  I fear that too many parents put far too much pressure on themselves as they bring up their kids.  Please don't misunderstand, parenting is by far one of the hardest (to date) and one of the most important tasks I have ever undertaken.  We, however, have found it helpful and healthy to consider the exact nature of our role as our kids' parents and to come to grips with what we can and cannot do for them or give to them.  Right now, the word that I feel best describes our job is the word influence.  I am sure that word has some shortcomings and baggage with it, but it resonates with me and gives me a framework for my parenting as we enter another year in this adventure called life.  Perhaps some of the thoughts I have shared here will prove helpful for you or someone you know.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

The (Other) Final Word in the Modesty Debate

In part 1 of this article, I postulated some postulates (what else would a person postulate?) about the so-called "Modesty Debate."  Summarily speaking, I tried to argue that the Biblical expectation for women/girls in their clothing choices deals primarily with their attitude and motive although I Timothy 2:9 does create a basic standard for the clothes themselves.  The good ol' ESV renders this standard as "respectable clothing."  At that point in the article, both my brain and my fingers were reaching the point of exhaustion so I stopped typing.

After a week, both my brain and my fingers feel sufficiently rested to continue.  Actually, I am really excited about this part of the post because it will allow me to speak about an area in which I am a genuine, qualified, first-rate expert--my own opinion.  I am also excited because submitting my own opinion prohibits anyone from disagreeing with me or trying to dissuade me because I can just say, "Well, you have your opinion and I have mine."  (Note - Although the previous sentence was included primarily for humorous purposes, I do have a less lighthearted reason for including it.  I think individuals engaged in the so-called "Modesty Debate" do need to realize that much of the conversation on both sides is opinion because the Bible does not give a great deal of specific prescription for New Testament believers in this area.  At least, in my opinion, it does not.)  So, with no further ado, I will now continue...(Wait, I just thought of one more piece of ado.  I want to include a warning.  Warning - I am planning on speaking fairly frankly (though not explicitly or inappropriately) about certain aspects of this issue in the paragraphs below.  Please don't be mad at me when you get to those parts.  I told you they were coming!)  Okay, now there is no further ado...

Section Two - My Personal Opinions about Various Aspects of the So-Called "Modesty Debate"

For what it's worth, here's what I think about...

1.  The definition of "respectable clothing" - As I said earlier, the only specific Biblical guideline I have thus far been able to identify for the actual clothes a New Testament era woman/girl wears is that they be "respectable."  (By the way, I see no reason why this same word shouldn't apply to men's/boy's clothing as well.)  This, of course, begs the question, "What makes for respectable clothing?"  Ah!  Therein (as they say) lies the rub!  For being a specific guideline, this mandate isn't really all that specific.  I find it noteworthy that God did not further define/explain what He meant by "respectable."  He certainly could have done so, but...He didn't.  I believe His reason for doing so is two-fold.  First, God expects each Christian to think through, pray, and consider for themselves what "respectable clothing" looks like.  Second, God knows that the specific look of "respectable clothing" will vary and change according to the culture.  I know that this second idea will make some of my readers uncomfortable, but I just don't see how one can ignore the fact that clothing (like several areas of the Christian experience) is very much dependent on cultural contexts.  The ambiguity of God's dress code is actually a testimony to the brilliance with which God designed Christianity because it makes it timeless and borderless.  God giving very specific guidelines for clothing choices would be a lot like buying a new computer or cell phone--in a matter of time it will be outdated and obsolete.  By limiting His expectation to our clothes being "respectable," God has allowed both 1st century believers and 21st century believers to adhere to the guideline despite the fact that clothing styles are vastly different between the two.

All of that leads me to to say this--we should choose clothing that is, within the larger scope of culture, generally considered to be "respectable."  That is--will most people using common sense who see us consider our clothes to be appropriate and respectable?  Undoubtedly, there are some styles that even the general culture understands to be provocative or inappropriate.  Believers shouldn't wear these.  Outside of those, however, I believe that the circle which includes "respectable clothing" is a pretty big circle encompassing a variety of different looks--including looks that might be considered more conservative or more liberal.  To put it bluntly, I think that, as long as our private parts are covered, we have a great deal of freedom when it comes to how long, how high, how loose, and how whatever our clothes are.  "Respectable" is a big concept, and anyone who tries to define it more narrowly than God is overstepping their bounds, in my opinion.

There is another idea that often creeps its way into the discussion, and so I would like to expend my last bit of mental dexterity for the day on that topic...

2.  The responsibility of women/girls to protect men from lusting after their bodies - As the so-called "Modesty Debate" rages on, those who take the more conservative approach (Please note above where I said there is plenty of room in the "Respectable Circle" for those who want to dress more conservatively) often support their specific dress preferences and (sometimes) seek to force them upon others by appealing to a woman's responsibility to protect the men around her from lusting after her body.  This, in their way of thinking, is accomplished by dressing conservatively.  Although there is no verse that specifically states this responsibility, it is true that there is a fairly well-developed Biblical concept that believers should not create situations that they know will most-likely cause other believers to sin.  I have no problem with the statement that women/girls should never dress in a way that they know will cause the males around them to lust and commit adultery in their hearts.  My problem with this line of thinking centers around the assumptions that often accompany it.  There is an assumption that all men are leering, lust-driven maniacs who cannot control their gaze or their thoughts.  While it may be true in general that men are primarily stimulated by sight, this does not necessarily mean that every guy around is a slave to his lust.  Many men have learned how to see a woman and appreciate the beauty of her respectfully-dressed body without lusting or committing heart-adultery.  Some will say, "What about those who haven't learned to do this?  What about the leering, lust-driven maniacs out there?  Shouldn't we try to help them out?"  This reasoning reveals another assumption, namely, that women have it in their power to prevent a man from lusting after their bodies by dressing more conservatively.  This simply is not true.  Writing transparently and seriously as a man for whom lust has been and is an ongoing battle, I have to speak frankly to the women who are reading this.  It doesn't matter if you are covered from head to toe.  If I am in the grip of lust at any given moment (please notice the if at the beginning of this sentence), I have the capability to inappropriately gaze at you and objectify parts of your body.  Unless you are dressed in a rectangular cardboard box, I can look at your clothes (as long and loose as they might be) and focus lustfully on your chest, your legs, your backside, your lips, your hair, or any other part I want to.  This is not your fault, it's mine.  If I am in the grip of flesh rather than Spirit, my lust might have nothing to do with your clothes at all but rather the simple fact that God created a woman's body with the shape and look that He did.  For me to expect you to stem the tide of my depravity by your clothing choices is an unrealistic expectation and a grievous burden to place on your shoulders.  For you to believe that you can stem the tide of my depravity by your clothing choices is a well-meaning, but utterly misguided thought.

"Should not women do their due diligence to make it easier for men to resist their lust?" some might ask.  Of course they should.  This is accomplished by choosing clothing that is "respectable."  (See point number 1 above.)  Beyond that, however, I just don't think that women/girls have the responsibility or the power in relation to men's eyes and thoughts that some would have us believe.  As with most things in the Christian experience, it comes down to an internal heart issue for the man rather than external influences.

And with that, I will complete my contribution to the so-called "Modesty Debate" and thereby wrap up the discussion for believers worldwide so that we can all move on to other points of debate/disagreement like politics, music, or Santa Claus.

Thank you for reading all the way to the end.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

The Final Word in the Modesty Debate

During this past summer (2013), I began to notice an emerging trend on my Facebook feed.  In addition to the usual fare of rants against Obamacare, coupon posts, sports team trash talking, and pictures of people's dogs and/or foot injuries, I saw an increasing number of links to blog articles with the word "modesty" in the title.  These articles usually discussed an issue that is (in certain smaller segments of American Evangelicalism) a hot topic--girls' and women's clothing choices.  Having read many of these articles and the accompanying arguments being waged in the comments sections of said articles, I decided to sit down and articulate the final word in the so-called "Modesty Debate."  I figure that, if no one else is willing to settle this issue once and for all, I might as well go ahead and get it done.

The last two sentences were written with my tongue in my cheek.  Obviously, I do not have the market cornered on the modesty debate, and I am certainly not one who is qualified to settle the arguments.  I will freely admit that I chose the title of this article for the sole purpose of catching your attention and surreptitiously inducing you to read what I have to say.  So far, my ploy appears to have worked in light of the fact that you have read all the way to this point.  In reality, my intent in this article is far less ambitious than my title would have you believe.  I would simply like to offer my own two cents about this issue.  I will accomplish this by dividing my comments into two sections.  Read them and do with them what you will.

Section One - My Personal Interpretation of the Biblical Guidelines for Women's Clothing

Ignoring for the time being the fact that discussions about modesty and dress choices almost always omit any mention of boys'/men's clothing, I would like to tell you what I believe the Bible teaches about girls'/women's clothing.  This is also what I plan on teaching my children (my daughter in particular) about this area.  I will be forthright with you, Reader, and admit that I have not spent a great deal of time studying the issue in all of its intricate nuances.  I have, however, done a fair amount of marinating on the passage in I Timothy 2:9-10, as this seems to me to be the primary passage in which God has given clear instructions about female clothing choices.  Many will argue with me and assert that the Bible contains a great deal more instruction about clothing, but I am always a bit wary when someone has to resort to an obscure, context-stripped verse in Hezekiah 45:11 for support.  (Yes, I know that there is no such verse as Hezekiah 45:11.  Everyone knows there's only 44 chapters in that book.)  Based on my marination on the passage in I Timothy, I have formulated the following 4 principles about female clothing choices:

1.  God's expectations in this area appear to focus far more on the heart attitude of the wearer than they do the specific clothing styles that the wearer chooses.  Even the passage in I Peter 3:3-4 (which is the other location in which we find mention of female clothing choices) puts the focus squarely on the inward rather than the external.  God's primary concern seems to be the attitude behind and the motive with which a woman wears her clothes.  One of the aspects of the I Timothy passage that I was quite surprised to discover is the fact that the idea of modesty is more accurately applied to the attitude of the wearer than it is to the clothes themselves.  In other words, it's not necessarily the clothes that should be modest but the person wearing them.  Certain Bible versions seem to be the culprits in propagating the semantical misconception that clothes themselves can be modest in the sense of humble and meek.  The ESV translates the clothing guideline as "respectable apparel" with the accompanying attitude of modesty and self-control.  To be sure, God did make a statement about the clothes themselves, and I will say more about that farther down the page.  At this point, however, I would simply like to point out that the majority of what God says about the issue deals with an inward state of the soul rather than a particular guideline about style.  It seems to me that our teaching on this topic should reflect that emphasis as well.

2.  There is nothing inherently wrong about a girl/woman dressing in a way that flatters and beautifies the body God has given her.  One of the bothersome (to me at least) aspects of the numerous modesty articles I have read recently is the implicit declaration to girls/women that their body is something to be hidden, camouflaged, or even ashamed of because of its alleged power over the male mind.  The female body is a powerful image and presence, to be sure.  (More on that later.)  I do not, however, subscribe to the notion that this power requires a woman to stifle the inherent physical beauty God has given to her or to limit the flattering/beautification process to only those parts of her body above her neck or below her knee (or ankle in some circles).  I find it revealing (almost no pun intended) that I Timothy 2:8 actually instructs women to adorn themselves.  This word does not simply mean to clothe.  It carries the idea of "decorating" or "beautifying."  In my mind, this seems to imply that there is nothing wrong with wearing clothing that flatters a girl's body and enhances her natural beauty.  I Peter 3 makes it clear that this adornment should not be exclusively external (refer to point 1 above for more details), but I do not believe God has prohibited girls/women from wearing styles that accentuate and decorate their bodies.  I do believe there is an appropriate and inappropriate way to do that, but I am going to save those thoughts for my big finish down in point number 4.  Before we get to that, however, let me present number 3...

3.  If, as I have posited above, modesty is an internal heart issue, then a woman who does not have this attitude is not fulfilling the requirements of the verse, regardless of what she is or isn't wearing.  This, in my moderately humble opinion, is where many a well-meaning follower of Jesus has missed the proverbial boat.  In some circles of American Evangelicalism an assumption is firmly entrenched in the minds of moms, dads, youth pastors, youth pastor's wives, and Christian school principals that their girls are just plain better off with "safer" or "higher" dress standards.  A girl's heart may be as far from modest as you can get, but at least her necklines and hemlines are appropriate.  If I am understanding Paul's inspired instructions in I Timothy correctly, then it is accurate for me to say that it doesn't really matter what clothes a woman is wearing or not wearing.  If her spirit is not one of "modesty" and "self-control", then she is not in adherence to the Biblical standard.  Dress codes certainly have their place in various contexts, but it is time to stop assuming that adherence to a dress code somehow puts a girl in a better place spiritually even though her soul is far from being spiritually healthy.  Even as some of you are reading those sentences the word "But..." is forming on your lips so I will hasten on to my finale...

4.  There is a standard of respectability and appropriateness for female clothing choices. If a girl does not meet this requirement, she is out of harmony with God's expectations, regardless of what her attitude and motive might be.  This, in my moderately humble opinion, is where many a well-meaning follower of Jesus has missed the proverbial boat. (Yes, I intentionally chose to repeat the same sentence I used in number 3, and I did it for dramatic effect.)  One of the problems that I have sensed in the comments and writings of those who argue against the "modest clothing" approach is the implicit idea that it doesn't really matter what a girl is wearing as long as her heart is modest and her intention is pure.  I do not agree.  Let us not forget that God did issue an instruction in the I Timothy passage about the clothes themselves.  The standard is listed in the ESV as "respectable apparel."  This implies that there exists in this universe styles we can call "un-respectable or unacceptable apparel."   If I am understanding Paul's inspired instructions in I Timothy correctly (Yup, I did it again.), then it is accurate for me to say that it doesn't really matter what a girl/woman's attitude or motive is.  If her clothes can be deemed to be inappropriate or lacking in respectability, then she is not in adherence to the Biblical standard.  Now, the crux of the issue comes when we ask the question, "What should be considered respectable clothing?"  You may not be surprised to discover that I have some ideas about that.  However, it has taken me a lot longer to type this much than I thought it would, so I think I will save those ideas and the rest of Section 2 for a follow-up post in a few days...

Please be honest but kind in any comments you may choose to submit...

(Read part 2 of this article by clicking here.)

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Raising a Rebel

"Evelyn, don't keep your eyes crossed like that.  If you do they will stay that way."

I am in the kitchen cleaning up after lunch on a lazy Saturday afternoon when I hear my seven-year old son issue this admonition to his younger sister.

"Eldan, what did you just say?"

"I told Evelyn not to keep her eyes crossed or they will get stuck that way."

"Where did you hear that?"

"Everyone at school says it."

Oh boy.  Here we go.

I knew this day would eventually come, but I will have to admit--I didn't necessarily expect it this soon in the parenting process and I definitely didn't expect it to come in the form of such an inane old wives-fable.  (I guess I am a bit naive.)  Now that it's here, however, I can see the advantages.  He's young and impressionable.  He hasn't yet passed the "my dad is my hero" stage of his elementary years.  He will probably give me more of a fair hearing now than at any given time in the next 20 years.  Plus, it's such an innocuous topic that it may provide the perfect case study for him to consider his personal ontological leanings. I continue putting the clean pots in the cupboard and the dirty ones in the dishwasher, I decide to engage...

"Just because everybody says it doesn't mean it's true."

"Yeah, but you're the only one I know of who says it isn't true."

"Well, it doesn't really matter what people say.  Do you have any proof?  Have you ever met anyone who kept their eyes crossed and they stayed that way?"


"So you don't really know if it's true, do you?"

"But everyone says it is."

"So?  You can't believe things just because lots of people say it.  Lots of people might be wrong.  You have to look for proof.  Bring me some proof that keeping your eyes crossed will freeze them that way and then we'll talk.  Without the proof, you have to admit that it might not be true."

"Yeah, but it might be true."

"Yeah, but it might be false, too."

And so it begins...

In a way, I am really excited.  The process is beginning.  (In truth, it has been underway since they day they were born.)  This is the way we are going to raise our children.  I want them to question.  I want them to challenge.  I want them to examine the issues (whether it is crossed eyes or same-sex marriage) and to base their decisions and beliefs on the fact that they are convinced in mind and conscience that something is true.  I don't want them to take what any human says--whether it is a preacher, teacher, politician, or parent--at face value.  Of course, there will be times (probably many) when they will have to temporarily submit their opinions and choices to me, my wife, or some other authority figure in the interest of honor and obedience, but I don't want either of those interests to become so overpowering that it causes them to lose their God-given ability and responsibility to think for themselves.  This lunch-time discussion was just the first of what I hope will be many opportunities I have to challenge my children's status-quo and push them to think.  Like they say--it isn't illegal yet.

But, in a way, I am also scared.  The process has begun in earnest.  The process of raising a child to become an adult--a responsible, thoughtful, opinionated, conviction-driven, truth-seeking adult.  By encouraging my kids to question, consider, and challenge, I realize that I am also creating a situation in which they might reach different conclusions than I.  These differing conclusions may come in areas of very little significance such as crossed-eyes or reading in the dark.  They may also come in areas of incalculable significance such as their view of God and themselves.  I know that I may have begun the process of raising a rebel who will reject the moral absolutes that we have been trying to calmly and consistently inculcate into their fiber from day one.  I know.  I know.  Questions can be dangerous.  Debate can be dangerous.  I know--and it scares me a little bit.  Okay, it scares me a lot of bit.

But my fear of my children reaching different conclusions than I cannot be allowed to overcome my desire (and the need) for them to reach conclusions--on their own.  In the end, I don't want them to agree with me because I say so.  I don't want them to believe what I believe because I believe it.  I want them to believe because they believe it.  I am fully aware that the process of reaching their own answers may lead them through some dangerous waters, but I have full confidence in the power of God and His truth to help them find their way.

So, for now, I'll just keep putting the dishes away and issuing my challenges...

"Show me some proof, Eldan.  It might not be true."

"Yeah, but it might be."

Oh, boy!  Here we go!

God help us...