What I Would Tell My Daughter About Modesty

“And so biblical modesty isn’t about managing the sexual impulses of other people; it’s about cultivating humility, propriety and deference within ourselves.”
Rachel Held Evans

Of all the things we use to make snap judgments about people, there are fewer things more powerful and efficient than mode of dress. What you choose to wear will say loads about your personality and interests – from the bands you love to the athletes you root for, the places you’ve been and the subcultures you want to affiliate with, even to what level you conform to social expectations. Thoughtful adornment can make an average-looking person radiant, while sloppy dressing can make even a gorgeous person frumpy. What you wear and how you wear it will be an amazing tool by which you can showcase your strengths and personality.

There will be many people who will want to dictate to you how you should dress. Don’t listen to them. As you decide what to wear, consider these two questions: 1) Are you wearing that in order to titillate or excite? and 2) Will your apparel fuel your pride or vanity, or will it call attention to your goodness and beauty? There will always be men who will look at you and choose to objectify you. The lustful gaze will never go away in this fallen world. So long as you aren’t consciously attempting to provoke it – or take advantage of it – then use your best judgment. There can be no hard and fast rules about what to wear. So much depends on context and culture, specific moments in time in specific places in the world.

All that is to say, let what you wear showcase your character, your goodness, your virtue, and honor. Modesty is not so much related to lust or sexuality as it is to communication. What we wear is the first thing we say to someone who sees us. I hope you agree with me that we should not say things in order to provoke a negative emotion in someone else, but instead we have a calling to use our speech to edify and encourage: to give blessings rather than curses. Then so it is with what you wear. Communicate with your clothing a message you would be honored to speak to a crowd of strangers. That’s what you’re doing already, so take ownership of it.

Also, no Zubaz. Those are ridiculous.


Uninformed Thoughts

(My blog is a stream-of-consciousness blog. That means I write about whatever I’m thinking about, and I often don’t put a lot of effort into editing or revising. The research I do is consistent with what I would ordinarily do to learn more about a given topic.)
So, naturally, I want to talk today about Supreme Court Decisions. I feel qualified to do so, considering I’ve read at least one John Grisham novel.
The Supreme Court decided yesterday in a 5-4 decision to strike down the coverage formula (Section 4) of the Voting Rights Act. A little background is important here. In 1965, amidst the throes of the Civil Rights Movement, several states and smaller jurisdictions would use voting tests to determine voter eligibility. These tests were used as a way to prevent black voters from reaching the polls, a clear violation of their 15th Amendment rights. That same amendment further gives Congress the power to enforce the voting rights of minority Americans, so enforce it they did, with the Voting Rights Act (VRA).
In essence, what the VRA did was eliminate those tests and prevent a few states and jurisdictions (the biggest offenders by certain criteria) from enacting any new laws or procedures without prior federal approval. Learned readers might be able to identify a problem here: the 10th Amendment gives States all powers not relegated to the Federal government, and that includes the power to regulate their own elections. The VRA and the 10th Amendment were thus at odds, but since the states in question were so flagrantly disregarding the 15th Amendment, it was deemed necessary to temporarily usurp those 10th Amendment rights. That usurpation was only supposed to last five years. With me so far?
The VRA proved effective. In all of the states affected, black voter registration rates achieved parity with the white voter registration rates. The rate of minorities elected to public office rose 1000%. In Mississippi in 1965, only 6.7% of eligible black voters had registered to vote. By 2004, that number was 76.1%, compared to 72.3% of whites.
So, that brings us back round to the decision. What to make of the fact that the Supreme Court struck down section 4, which was the formula which defined which states were subject to these requirements? To me, it all depends on how you see the heart of the problem. Is voter discrimination a problem so endemic to certain parts of the country that as soon as these restrictions are gone we will see 1965 percentages again? Or has the hard work been done, parity been achieved, and those jurisdictions can now govern themselves in fairness and equality? To make a medical analogy (I’m qualified to do so because I’ve watched House), is the illness of voter discrimination chronic or acute?
Ruth Bader Ginsburg clearly thinks it’s the former. In her dissenting opinion, Justice Ginsburg somewhat sardonically said, “the Court today terminates the remedy that proved to be best suited to block (voter discrimination).” A cast may be the best remedy to assist the healing of a broken leg, but at some point it must come off. But Ginsburg doesn’t see it as a broken leg; she herself goes on to compare the situation to a “vile infection.” The majority justices, on the other hand, clearly see the worst of voter discrimination as having been remedied.
I can’t say with any authority whether the talking heads are onto something. Maybe the majority justices are trying to bring the United States back into a divided and segregated state. Maybe the dissenting justices are trying to preserve federal power over the states. The more likely reading to me is that the majority justices see this situation more optimistically: progress has been made, and it’s time to put away extreme measures.
I can’t make an authoritative claim about the legal merits of this case. So what’s the point of this post? The point is this: go read these opinions yourself. Most people never get further than the CNN, FoxNews, MotherJones, Huffington Post articles about them. They never know what logic or arguments were employed by the justices in order to arrive at their decisions. But these documents are immensely readable and informative. (Everything in this post I got directly from the decision.) So stop letting the ideologically-biased minds tell you what to think. Read the decisions and come to your own conclusion.

The decision can be found (and read!) here:

Boys and Girls

“A woman can become a man’s friend only in the following stages – first an acquantaince, next a mistress, and only then a friend.”
– Anton Chekov
The question of whether or not men and women can really be “just friends” is one that comes up over and over. Clearly, this is a situation where intelligent, thoughtful people can disagree. (I constantly disagree with myself about it.) (Ya know, in a non-schizophrenic fashion.) It even came up in church last night, when Pastor Steve was encouraging the men in the congregation to involve themselves more in women’s lives. In third service, we get to ask questions at the end of the sermon, so my hand shot up: “How can men do that without misleading women about why they’re there?”
Steve, to his constant credit, conceded that he didn’t know. He even asked the congregation for their ideas. The room was silent. This is one area where we are all short on wisdom.

I have some of my own ideas, and I will lay them out for you. Let me acknowledge right now that I may have some flawed assumptions. If you notice one, or otherwise take issue with anything here, please share your disagreement. Maybe we can get at something that approaches the truth.
I think there are a couple of reasons that people come to believe that men and women cannot be friends:
1) Much of the time, a man only pursues “friendship” with a woman because he already has romantic feelings for her, which skews our perception of the whole situation. (I suppose women might do this, too.) If you watch that popular YouTube video on this question, this seems to be what every single guy interviewed is trying to do.
2) I think our egos sometimes make things much harder on ourselves. What I mean is, if we perceive that somebody is not attracted to us, we may come to want them to be. And wanting someone to like us is so closely tied to liking them ourselves that we can completely confuse the two.
3) When we think about this, we tend to reflect on the times when we had a relationship get complicated or completely fall apart due to romantic feelings. But we ignore all the healthy, positive platonic relationships we have otherwise. This is confirmation bias at its finest, my friends.
So, what can we do to avoid this trap? What are some ways we can invest in the opposite sex – and hopefully build them up – while limiting the risk for miscommunication and unnecessary heartache? Well, I have another list for you.
1) Make sure you are pursuing a friendship for the right reasons. If you have a desire to be hospitable, if you share common interests, awesome. But if in reality you only want a cross-gender “friendship” as a stop-gap between relationships, you’re using another human being selfishly. If you’re in it to have your ego swollen and to feel attractive, you are playing with fire. Take a serious look at your motives and make sure you want a friend for friendship’s sake.
2) Set up clear boundaries. There’s nothing wrong with doing “couples” sort of activities, but doing so can be a big step towards creating confusion. Spending most of your time together in groups can diminish that. But if it looks to an outside observer that you two are dating, it might look that way from the inside as well.
3) Speak directly and honestly – but do so gently and without presumption. If you get the sense that you or your friend might be developing feelings, it could be worthwhile to make clear where you want things to go. Be sensitive and respectful, and don’t hold it against them if they feel differently than you do.
4) Be aware that your feelings could change, and so could theirs.
I know there’s a lot more that could be said on this topic. I do think Chekov is wrong in his appraisal. But I think it really comes back to a simple rule of thumb: act with the other person’s best interests in mind, and from there celebrate and enjoy what makes them who they are. Sometimes romantic love will spring from that experience, but sometimes it might “just” be friendship. As though friendship were somehow less valuable than romantic love. But that’s a whole other blog post entirely.

Random Dance Parties and the Pursuit of Happiness

“Opportunity dances with those already on the dance floor.”
— H. Jackson Brown Jr.

I wasn’t planning on posting a blog this morning. But at six a.m., I read this Atlantic piece about how it’s not purchasing things that makes us happy, but rather shopping for them. I thought it made a few compelling arguments and it’s worth the read. I don’t have strong opinions on “diminishing utility” — talk to my accountant friends — but I can see the case.
But it got me thinking about what makes me happy, and why this year has been so much happier for me than years past. One big component of that is community, having the sense that I belong amongst a group of people who care about me. Another is having a sense of purpose (though perhaps not vocationally), knowing that I can make a contribution to other people’s lives that is valued and sometimes even cherished. And let us never underestimate the power of an Oreo McFlurry.
If I’m really honest, though, I think the biggest component relates to that Atlantic article. I am finding more and more things to anticipate. I looked at my calendar for the coming weeks, and I have so many things coming up that I am enthusiastically looking forward to. Beer tonight with one of the men from my church. A scalp massage (and complimentary hair cut) from my stylist tomorrow. A dinner party on Saturday. Beer, Sex, & Theology on Sunday. Meeting Thomas Keller next week. And all that’s just the start of it. Even that introvert voice in my head is screaming, “Let’s do this!”
And then I get to my bus stop. I was early because I’m working longer hours this week, so I saw a woman I’ve never seen before. She’s a young professional, probably edging into her late twenties. She was wearing a winter coat. In any other context I would assume she’s shy and a little mousy. But today, at that bus stop, with her headphones in, she was dancing to her tunes as though she were in the middle of a crowded club, waving at cars driving by, a consistent little smile on her face.

This wasn't her.

This wasn’t her.

So maybe anticipation isn’t the whole story, either. Maybe happiness lies in being able to make your own dance parties at a moment’s notice.

What Milk Duds teach us about Sex

“Chastity is the most unpopular of the Christian virtues.”
— C.S. Lewis

At this very moment, I have an intense craving for some Milk Duds. The soft, chewy caramel wrapped in a luxurious, sweet milk chocolate? It haunts my dreams. All day long, my tongue says to my jaw, “Look at you, being lazy. You could be masticating Milk Duds til you’re sore. It’s basically exercise, you know.”
Whoever decided to introduce a 10 oz. package should be locked in San Quentin.
But I’m not snacking on Milk Duds. I’m not snacking on anything at the moment. I, like most of you, can recognize that I don’t need to indulge my every craving. More than that, doing so would be unhealthy for my body and also diminish my future enjoyment of those succulent morsels.
I think we need to take this logic just a little bit further. We are buying into a myth about sex and sexuality: any sexual urge that we don’t indulge gets labeled “repression,” and we’re told it leads to very bad things. But if we can understand our sexual appetite the same way we understand our culinary appetite, I think we can see very quickly that there is a difference between healthy urges and unhealthy urges, and there’s a line to draw between sexual indulgences that benefit us and those that do not.
If you guys are anything like me, very rarely do you crave the things that are healthy for you. I’m not sitting at my work desk thinking, “Damn, I need some carrots like right now.” If we’re looking for health, maybe the type and intensity of our cravings better measures what we should avoid rather than what we should embrace. I say this in relative ignorance, and also possibly stretching my analogy too far. But I hope we can all agree that not all urges need to be indulged, and health always requires sacrifice.
So no matter what metric you use to determine what constitutes healthy sexuality, embrace it. Hold it up against your cravings and decide whether that indulgence will benefit you, or whether it will leave you with the psycho-sexual equivalent of obesity.

Bad Will Hunting

“Should I kill myself, or have a cup of coffee?”
— Albert Camus

There is a scene in the film Good Will Hunting that has confused me for years. It is sandwiched between two of the more memorable scenes in the movie: after Will dresses down the Harvard graduate student for making his friend look stupid, but before he finds the same student later and delivers the famous, “How do you like them apples?” line. In this scene, the story’s love interest, Skylar, approaches will and gives him her number. “Maybe we could go out for coffee sometime?”
Will replies, “Great, or maybe we could go somewhere and just eat a bunch of caramels. When you think about it, it’s just as arbitrary as drinking coffee.”
For a while, this confused me because I didn’t know what the word “arbitrary” meant. Now I do. And I’m sorry, Will, but you’re mistaken on this point.
An interesting thing happens when you feel attraction for someone. Your brain releases norepinephrine – which causes your heart to race, your palms to sweat, and your pupils to dilate – and also dopamine, which heightens arousal, pleasure, and elevates your mood. Oddly enough, drinking coffee also stimulates the release of these two neurochemicals. Combining the two is like adding salt to a steak (or bacon to a steak, probably): it ramps up the intensity and makes everything more enjoyable.
Add to that the psychological effects of this combo: your adaptive unconscious picks up on the fact that your coffee date is physically aroused, his pupils are dilated, and has increased his emotional expressiveness. This, in turn, subtly improves your mood, making you feel both more confident and relaxed.
Before you object with a tale of a coffee date gone horribly wrong, remember I’m not saying that coffee guarantees success. You still need to feel attraction for each other. You still need to have something to talk about. And all dates require a feeling of comfort and ease in order to go well. Coffee isn’t magic. But it can help amplify feelings that are already in place. And that, Will Hunting, is anything but arbitrary. I guess you should have read your physiology textbooks more closely.