Wednesday, February 22, 2006

New Clothes for Easter

As a little girl, I looked forward to Easter because it meant a new dress. We would visit the fabric store, where Mom and I would pore over the immense pattern books -- Butterick, McCall, Vogue -- and roam the aisles, fingering the chintz and calico and gingham, being careful not to send the bolts tumbling. In imitation of my tailor-grandma, I would "stroke, bunch, release" (to check for wrinkling) before unveiling the bolt end to peer at the price per yard. Like Grandma, I was pleased if the fabric I favored was expensive, as it meant I recognized quality. (Grandma had a horror of synthetics, calling them all "plastic." She didn't live long enough to befriend fleece.)

Once home, bits of tissue and fabric and scissors flew as Mom or sister (both excellent seamstresses) fed pastel cotton into the old Singer. Out came a bell skirt, poufy sleeves and a wide sash. I would stand on a chair, pins poking my legs, as they checked the length. The hem was huge -- several inches wide -- allowing for letting down as I grew taller. How I loved wearing that new dress! On Easter morning, we had baskets of plastic grass, Peeps, jellybeans and chocolate, and we searched the house for colored eggs (I always found one in the kitchen ladle hanging above the stove). We went to church and gathered at relatives' houses for ham and potatoes. But the dress was the the thing on Easter.

Then I grew taller. By the time I reached my teens, the annual ritual was a source of agony. I was deeply skeptical about my looks, had no fashion sense, and was less than deft with a needle. One year I found myself drowning in lilac silk with a wide cream-collared sailor collar. In the pattern book, on an emaciated model, it had looked fresh, jaunty. I resembled a dessert item.

Changing tacks the next year, I tried a simple "renaissance" pattern from Vogue, in a subtle paisley cotton with a drawstring neck, I felt rather modestly lovely and was pleased with my accomplishment. That didn't last long. After dinner in the kitchen, I was groped by a (married) OALC perv. As I batted away his hands in horror, he hissed "it's your fault for dressing that way."

When I left the OALC, Thoreau's maxim to "beware all occasions requiring new clothes" seemed morally superior. I adopted a utilitarian outlook regarding clothing, with occasional outbursts of experimentation (e.g., snakeskin boots). But as my husband once told me, "In the history of humanity, not all people have worn clothing, but all have practiced adornment."

It may be so, but I find myself wishing for the simplicity of, well, a uniform. Even jeans and t-shirts involve too many decisions.

Last week, our five-year old got giddy over a poufy Easter dress at Costco. I bought it for her. After all, new clothes are symbolic of new life. Easter, if it is about anything, is about new life, and she's far too young for Thoreau.

Go here for a history of Easter from the History Channel.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Love Prayer

Isn't that a lovely eye? Our daughter is so radiant that no matter how bleak the world seems, I find my hopes for it refreshed just looking at her. For Valentine's Day, a friend sent me this prayer.

Because love is patient. Help me to be slow to judge, but quick to listen. Hesitant to criticize, but eager to encourage,remembering your endless patience with me.

Because love is kind. Help my words to be gentle and my actions to be thoughtful. Remind me to smile and to say "Please" and "Thank You" because those little things still mean so much.

Because love does not envy or boast, and it is not proud. Help me have a heart that is humble and sees the good in others. May I celebrate and appreciate all that I have and all that I am, as well as doing the same for those around me.

Because love is not rude or self-seeking. Help me to speak words that are easy on the ear and on the heart. When I'm tempted to get wrapped up in my own little world, remind me there's a great big world out there full of needs and hurts.

Because love is not easily angered and keeps no record of wrongs. Help me to forgive others as you have forgiven me. When I want to hold onto a grudge, gently help me release it so I can reach out with a hand of love instead.

Because love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. Help me stand up for what is right and good. May I defend the defenseless, and help the helpless. Show me how I can make a difference.

Because love always protects and always trusts.Help me to be a refuge for those around me. When the world outside is harsh and cold, may my heart be a place of acceptance and warmth.

Finally, because love always perseveres. Help my heart continually beat with love for You and others.
Thank you for this day when we celebrate love, and for showing us what that word really means. Amen.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Cartoon Violence

I'm interested in hearing what you think about the Danish cartoon debacle.

Should the Danes have refrained from publishing the cartoons? After the fact, should other media have refrained?

Yesterday after church, several of us got into an interesting debate on this topic. Even among Christians in the same congregation, there were several different opinions.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Why do you not judge for yourselves what is right? (Jesus)

Below is an excerpt from an essay by Walter Wink's essay, which can be found at the link above.

Virtually all modern readers would agree with the Bible in rejecting:

incest
rape
adultery
intercourse with animals

But we disagree with the Bible on most other sexual mores. The Bible condemned the following behaviors which we generally allow:

intercourse during menstruation
celibacy
exogamy (marriage with non-Jews)
naming sexual organs
nudity (under certain conditions)
masturbation (some Christians still condemn this)
birth control (some Christians still forbid this)
And the bible regarded semen and menstrual blood as unclean, which most of us do not

Likewise, the Bible permitted behaviors that we today condemn:
prostitution
polygamy
levirate marriage
sex with slaves
concubinage
treatment of women as property
very early marriage (for the girl, age 11-13)

And while the Old Testament accepted divorce, Jesus forbade it. In short, of the sexual mores mentioned here, we only agree with the Bible on four of them, and disagree with it on sixteen!

Surely no one today would recommend reviving the levirate marriage. So why do we appeal to proof texts in Scripture in the case of homosexuality alone, when we feel perfectly free to disagree with Scripture regarding most other sexual practices? Obviously many of our choices in these matters are arbitrary. Mormon polygamy was outlawed in this country, despite the constitutional protection of freedom of religion, because it violated the sensibilities of the dominant Christian culture, even though no explicit biblical prohibition against polygamy exists.

If we insist on placing ourselves under the old law, as Paul reminds us, we are obligated to keep every commandment of the law (Gal. 5:3). But if Christ is the end of the law (Rom. 10:4), if we have been discharged from the law to serve, not under the old written code but in the new life of the Spirit (Rom. 7:6), then all of these Old Testament sexual mores come under the authority of the Spirit. We cannot then take even what Paul says as a new law. Christians reserve the right to pick and choose which laws they will observe, though they seldom admit to doing just that. And this is as true of evangelicals and fundamentalists as it is of liberals and mainliners.

Judge for Yourselves
The crux of the matter, it seems to me, is simply that the Bible has no sexual ethic. There is no biblical sex ethic. Instead it exhibits a variety of sexual mores, some of which changed over the thousand-year span of biblical history. Mores are unreflective customs accepted by a given community. Many of the practices that the Bible prohibits, we allow, and many that it allows, we prohibit. The Bible only knows a love ethic, which is constantly being brought to bear on whatever sexual mores are dominant in any given country, culture, or period.

The very notion of a "sex ethic" reflects the materialism and splitness of modern life, in which we increasingly define our identity sexually. Sexuality cannot be separated off from the rest of life. No sex act is "ethical" in and of itself, without reference to the rest of a person's life, the patterns of the culture, the special circumstances faced, and the will of God. What we have are simply sexual mores, which change, sometimes with startling rapidity, creating bewildering dilemmas. Just within one lifetime we have witness the shift from the ideal of preserving one's virginity until marriage, to couples living together for several years before getting married. The response of many Christians is merely to long for the hypocrisies of an earlier era.

I agree that rules and norms are necessary: that is what sexual mores are. But rules and norms also tend to be impressed into the service of the Domination System, and to serve as a form of crowd control rather than to enhance the fullness of human potential. So we must critique the sexual mores of any given time and clime by the love ethic exemplified by Jesus. Such a love ethic is non-exploitive (hence, no sexual exploitation of children, no using of another to their loss), it does not dominate (hence, no patriarchal treatment of women as chattel), it is responsible, mutual, caring, and loving. Augustine already dealt with this is his inspired phrase, "Love God, and do as you please."

Our moral task, then, is to apply Jesus' love ethic to whatever sexual mores are prevalent in a given culture. This doesn't mean everything goes. It means that everything is to be critiqued by Jesus' love commandment. We might address younger teens, not with laws and commandments whose violation is a sin, but rather with the sad experiences of so many of our own children who find too much early sexual intimacy overwhelming, and who react by voluntary celibacy and even the refusal to date. We can offer reasons, not empty and unenforceable orders. We can challenge both gays and straights to question their behaviors in the light of love and the requirements of fidelity, honesty, responsibility, and genuine concern for the best interests of the other and of society as a whole.

Christian morality, after all, is not an iron chastity belt for repressing urges, but a way of expressing the integrity of our relationship with God. It is the attempt to discover a manner of living that is consistent with who God created us to be. For those of same-sex orientation, as for heterosexuals, being moral means rejecting sexual mores that violate their own integrity and that of others, and attempting to discover what it would mean to live by the love ethic of Jesus.

Morton Kelsey goes so far as to argue that homosexual orientation has nothing to do with morality, any more than left-handedness does. it is simply the way some people's sexuality is configured. Morality enters the picture when that predisposition is enacted. If we saw it as a God-given-gift to those for whom it is normal, we could get beyond the acrimony and brutality that have so often characterized the unchristian behavior of Christians toward gays.

Approached from the point of view of love, rather than that of law, the issue is at once transformed. Now the question is not "What is permitted?" but rather "What does it mean to love my homosexual neighbor?" Approached from the point of view of faith rather than of works, the question ceases to be "What constitutes a brach of divine law in the sexual realm?" and becomes instead "What constitutes obedience to the God revealed in the cosmic lover, Jesus Christ?" Approached from the point of view of the Spirit of the rather than of the letter, the question ceases to be "What does Scripture command?" and becomes "What is the Word that the Spirit speaks to the churches now, in the light of Scripture, tradition, theology, psychology, genetics, anthropology, and biology?" We can't continue to build ethics on the basis of bad science.

In a little-remembered statement, Jesus said, "Why do you not judge for yourselves what is right?" (Luke 12:57). Such sovereign freedom strikes terror in the hearts of many Christians; they would rather be under law and be told what is right. Yet Paul himself echoes Jesus' sentiment immediately preceding one of his possible references to homosexuality: "Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, matters pertaining to this life!" (I Cor. 6:3). The last thing Paul would want is for people to respond to his ethical advice as a new law engraved on tablets of stone. He is himself trying to "judge for himself what is right." If now new evidence is in on the phenomenon of homosexuality, are we not obligated -- no, free -- to re-evaluate the whole issue in the light of all available data and decide, under God, for ourselves? Is this not the radical freedom for obedience which the gospel establishes?