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What Not to Wear--Part 2

I closed the book after the fourth chapter. I hugged my knees to my chest, rested my chin on my knees, and let out a long, heavy sigh. I sat, conflicted, on the oversized chair in our living room while my husband was upstairs asleep, my emotions fluctuating, oddly, between compassion and rage. If the battle really was ‘every man's,' then my husband was no exception, which, I concluded, left me with only two options. One (compassion): kneel—weeping—next to his bedside and beg God to deliver him from the temptations of a lust-provoking world; or two (rage): pick up the baseball bat (we keep one next to our bed) and start swinging. (Don't worry. God was genius in his design of the human body to heal).

I'm kidding, of course, but this is the pendulum on which I swing when it comes to men, women, lust, and modesty—compassion for male hard-wiring that requires frustratingly painful diligence, and irritation that the latter is true. I share Tracey Bianchi's conviction (part 1) that both sides have a part to play in working towards the common good. Men to do, well, whatever it is men do to keep their thought lives pure, and women to not carry ourselves in a way that leads a pastor to confess his roving eyes to an applause-filled congregation. As a leader who strives to build up the body, I take my choices about what to wear seriously.

But I have to tell you, recently I was forced to pick up my modesty box and shake it, flip it, and bang it against the wall a few times. The jolt came in an email from a woman who had seen me speak to a mixed-gender crowd. Here's what she said:

You need to look uglier when you speak.

I stared—shell shocked—at the words on my screen, reading the phrasing slowly and deliberately, over and over, each time trying on a different lens.

Look uglier. (Maturity Lens) Okay. Truth in love, I can handle this.

Look uglier. (Humility Lens) I'm certainly not exempt from making mistakes.

Look uglier. (Self-Awareness Lens) What did I wear?

I tried, I really did, but ultimately, I landed on the only lens that really felt like it fit. This one:

Look uglier. (Indignant Lens) What in the world is that supposed to mean?

Oh, the tailspin that ensued.

Would anyone tell a man to look less attractive? Would you tell a man to not iron his shirt? Not wear a color that made his eyes look blue? Not wear pants that made his gut look smaller? Not shave or put gel in his hair?

No! Why, then, would someone tell a woman to look uglier? And what does that even mean?

After the initial swell of emotion dissipated, after long discussions with both sides, and after conceding that, like it or not, the double standard is reality (and, actually, for good reason), here are the real questions with which I was left, not as a woman who wants to issue a rally cry for fairness, but as one who desires to pursue righteousness by valuing others more than herself.

Now before you tackle the questions, a couple of caveats. First, don't answer in the extremes, because with extremes comes obviousness, and we're too smart for that. Second, I'm talking about real women here—attractive, intelligent, gifted women, both internally and externally—who serve in ministries across the country every day. Okay, consider:

Does modesty mean downplaying the natural beauty with which women are created?

Does modesty mean less fashionable, less trendy, less flair?

Does modesty mean not just covering curves (skin), but showing less of them (form)?

Does modesty mean sacrificing attire that makes women feel confident because they do, in fact, look attractive?

Does modesty mean an attractive woman (see part one) cannot lead, preach or teach in a coed environment without putting men in a less-than-righteous position?

As a woman who is lousy at dying to self and who desperately wants to stop swinging her baseball bat, I'd love to hear what you think.

September25, 2009 at 3:12 PM

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