You don't have to signal a social conscience by looking like a frump. Lace knickers won't hasten the holocaust, you can ban the bomb in a feather boa just as well as without, and a mild interest in the length of hemlines doesn't necessarily disqualify you from reading Das Kapital and agreeing with every word. --Elizabeth Bibesco

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

My Religious Bucket List in Chicago, Part 5: Unity Temple Oak Park

Perhaps just to form the starkest contrast possible with our trip to the Mormons, this time my Woman and I went the the Unitarian Universalist Unity Temple in Oak Park, Illinois. In fairness, there was one thing that the two had in common: we couldn't find the sanctuary at first in the Unity Temple either! Eventually, right before the service started, we just followed the stream of people, but it really is an odd little set-up.

Speaking of odd set-ups, that's the best way to describe the sanctuary inside too. It wasn't bad, it was just very unusual, although it did remind me a bit of Saint Clare's in Ann Arbor because of the seating in the round. But this was a little bit like someone had taken Saint Clare's and put it in a kaleidoscope. There was a main-level seating area where the pews just faced the front which had a dais for the pastor and such. Then around that there were 3 levels of balconies with pews in them, staggered at odd intervals. The first level was below the main level, so your heads were about on par with those people's knees. The second level was just above them, so your knees were on level with their heads and the third one was higher still. It worked, but I would have felt a little odd in the lowest level, I think, although it was closest to the exit so perhaps it worked best for people with fussy children or who don't like to sit still for very long.

I'll admit now that I don't ever feel quite right in a Unitarian church. I've always found them to be lovely people, but I like rules. And that (might) be the one thing (most) Unitarians could agree to oppose! (I kid, sort of.)

Anyway, the hymns were pretty, if totally unfamiliar to me because they didn't mention God. The sermon was primarily about introversion versus extroversion with a reading from The Phantom Tollbooth, which is one of my Woman's favorite books. That got our attention and it provided me with a lot to think about. For example: I identify as an introvert. My Woman thinks that's poppycock because I am so much more extroverted than her. After listening to the sermon and thinking about it for a while, I think I am much more towards the middle, but definitely still on the side of the introvert.

The whole thing left us feeling bubbly and happy, I think, but it didn't feel like church. Although, maybe that's kind of silly, because where else do people sing in public these days? I think the Unity Temple provided the community aspect of church, but for me it didn't provide the worship aspect, which is really important in my world. It was beautiful, though, and moving, so I'd totally recommend it, if it sounds like your cup of tea.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Guidelines for Taking Up Modesty

My disciplines for this Lent are not modesty-related, but I've had several people approach me this year and last thinking about taking up some form of modesty for Lent. Although this is a little late for your Lenten practice, if you're considering taking up modesty next year or for another reason/season, maybe this will help.

So here we go: basic instructions for taking up modest dressing.
1) Do your research! And start with your own tradition. I know that sounds hypocritical coming from someone who chose to go outside their tradition, but I looked at mine first! It's just about getting to know your options. Many denominations of Christianity have rich traditions of Plain dress, like the Mennonites or the Quakers, and many other Christians have adopted these traditions. Many others have traditions of modesty, such as the Latter Day Saints (Mormons) or the Pentecostal Church and Christians from all walks of life consider head covering. For Muslims, obviously hijab is the main form of modesty, but hijab can mean many things to many people. Jews have tzniut, but that too can vary in what people consider to be modest and so you should check out all your options.
I also encourage (women as well as men) to look at the requirements for male modesty in religion. My Woman once said that the only modesty requirements she ever felt a real connection to were those for Muslim men-- covering naval to knees. For me, I find that I'm compelled to cover my head, but I identify more with why Jewish men cover their heads than why Christian, Muslim or Jewish women cover their heads. In the interest of equal devotion to God, many Reconstructionist or Reform Jewish women will cover their heads with kippahs like the men do.

2) If you are adopting someone else's tradition, be mindful of how you present yourself both to followers of that tradition and outsiders. For instance: is it a good idea to wear a hijab and a mini-skirt when you go out drinking? I don't have the answer there. I can tell you, though, that if the answer is yes, you're going to be explaining yourself to a lot of people.

3) Go shopping! I have to admit, I like this part. :) But it doesn't have to be expensive! If you're going tzniut, check out, if you're going hijabi, check out For anything, check out Etsy! And don't forget to check out your local Good Will or second-hand clothes store. But not Salvation Army, please.

4) Do not throw away your old clothes! Unless you have been debating this move for years and years and years, please do not throw away your old clothes. I have a couple of reasons for this. For starters, you never know when you might be able to incorporate your pre-modesty-modest clothes into your new modest get-up. Check out this hijabi mini-skirt idea. Secondly, at least for me, that throw-the-baby-out-with-the-bathwater attitude tends to mean that what I'm getting into is not actually a calling, but a fad. (Tarot cards in your teenage years, anyone?) In that regard, I think keeping your old clothes around gives you a way to ease back into your old life if it is a fad with as little drama as possible. Again, I'm not saying any one practice is always a fad, just that bandwagon-jumping is not modest and if you are looking to practice modesty, one should do as little bandwagon-jumping as possible.

Those are my thoughts for anyone considering a modest dressing path. Questions? Suggestions? I'd love to hear them!

Saturday, February 9, 2013

My Religious Bucket List in Chicago, Part 3: St. Mary of the Angels Catholic Church

I label what my Woman and I have been doing lately as "church shopping," but it really isn't. I think of church shopping as that sometimes frantic search for a spiritual home. It's stressful. When we do it, even before I step into a church, I'm judging it-- it's too far away, I don't like their politics, the architecture is ugly. Whatever. I'll own that I've done that. And that's not to say that sometimes those things aren't valid. But it's stressful. At least part of me really wants every church to be the one where my soul belongs, so my needy self is arguing with my judge-y self and it's hard to just settle down and breathe.

This, however, is not church shopping for us. It's a pilgrimage-- a journey to sacred spaces. That's how my Woman and I ended up at St. Mary of the Angels Roman Catholic Church in Bucktown. We didn't need to agree with their politics or even truly feel welcomed for it to be sacred to us. It was such a release. Usually, when I'm in a Catholic church, I can't relax-- I'm worried about being "outed" as gay or Episcopalian or I'm too busy fussing about their politics. But for Christmas Eve midnight Mass in St. Mary's, I just relaxed. It was wonderful.

The church was beautiful, the Mass was actually at midnight, the music was wonderful and the people-watching was great too. We sang several great Christmas hymns, including one in Spanish that was apparently a classic and I loved. It wasn't a super high Mass or anything, but it was quite traditional and in that elegant, historic building, it was easy to envision being a part of "the Communion of Saints," as we say in the Apostles' Creed. A girl could get used to that.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

My Religious Bucket List in Chicago, Part 4: Mormon Lake Shore 2nd Ward

On the note of visiting places of worship where we don't necessarily agree with their politics, my Woman and I decided to visit a Mormon (Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints) church. Neither of us had ever been to one before and, while both of us disagree with some official Mormon policies and theologies, we wanted to try something new in the interest of ecumenical understanding.

Since Mormonism has a moderately strong sense of modesty, once we decided to go, I immediately started fussing about what to wear. (I know, I should have probably been prayerfully preparing my heart for the pilgrimage, but there you have it.) The little FAQ on had this to say about clothing: "You’re welcome to wear any modest clothes that you feel comfortable in. But just so you know, most men wear suits, sport coats and shirts and ties, and women wear dresses or skirts. Children also typically dress up." Now, most of the clothes I'd wear to church on Sunday probably meet Mormon standards for modesty, but I wasn't sure they'd meet them for dressiness, if that makes sense, so I started to fuss about wearing something dressy.

I ended up in a cute, strappy dress from H&M that went down to my knees with a t-shirt under it, a sweater over it and a gorgeous hat that my Woman got me for Christmas. What I didn't find out until later was that when I had it tailored, the tailor (who did an incredibly bad job), managed to make the dress, which had always been on the short side for me once I sat down, even shorter. Oh well. At least I was wearing thick tights, too, I guess. My Woman, too, found a nice dress and amended it to be modest by Mormon standards.

When we got there, we fidgeted in the car for a while before going in. I don't know why we were so nervous, because it's not like we haven't attended a bunch of different worship spaces, but we were. When we finally went in, we were greeted by a woman who assumed we were visiting from another Mormon congregation. (It felt a little bit like relief-- we'd passed! But then we had to explain that we were Episcopalian, because we weren't even sure what room to be in for the service!)

Once they knew we were strangers, people were super friendly. The lovely woman, who turned out to be the President's wife, explained to us the basics of the service and offered us seats next to her. We declined-- what if we were accidentally rude?-- and took seats near the back behind a family or families with 4 small children. That might have been the best part of the service for us! The children playing, reading religious magazines and eating crayons were absolutely adorable. We're suckers for kids smiling at us too, so we spent much of the time waving and making faces at the children-- which is what we do when we're in our own church!

Much of it was just what you'd see in a Protestant church, or similar anyway. We sang lots of hymns and someone preached. However, we sang all the hymns seated and the preachers were a young couple from the congregation. Now, I hate having to stay seated when I sing, but I loved that they had this young couple preach. We learned from the President that they rotate and different people speak every week, which I think is an awesome way to encourage community participation.

It totally threw us off our game though when it was time for Communion-- "the Sacrament." Now, I'd like to think I've seen my share of Communions. I once participated in a (Presbyterian) Communion led by a man who wasn't ordained, using a loaf of Hawaiian bread for the host. The Presbyterian church I grew up in commonly used tiny pieces of Wonder Bread and shot-glass-sized cups of grape juice. I've also been to churches where they would not place the Host in my hands, but had to put it directly in my mouth.Other experiences run the gamut of everything in between

Still, however, I wasn't prepared for the Mormon version of the sacrament. They used bread and water. My Woman and I were both floored. We'd never even heard of it before-- and I like to think I'm sort of up on religious differences. There were also rituals that I'm sure we screwed up-- like my Woman tried to hold the Communion tray by it's base and the guy who was the Mormon equivalent of a Lay Eucharistic Minister flinched trying to pull it away from her-- apparently we were only supposed to hold the handle. All in all, though, we survived and no one looked horribly offended. We spent the rest of the service listening to the sermon and trying to discreetly make faces at the children in front of us.

On our way out, the President greeted us-- he'd invited us to stay for their classes afterwards, but we couldn't stay. He handed us a notecard and explained that it was the contact info for a special Mormon singles church-- my Woman and I almost didn't make it out of that conversation without giggling. It was super, super sweet of him, but so misguided. Clearly, he thought, "Here are two single women (because we would have brought our man with us if we had one) who love kids and are moderately interested in the Mormon Church. Obviously, I've won the evangelism lottery-- I just send them to a singles' group, they meet nice Mormon boys and have Mormon babies." And honestly, who could blame him? I would never assume that two women showing up at a Mormon church were engaged to each other. So we've kept the card-- I don't know exactly why. Maybe partly as a reminder to be aware of misguided evangelism in our own lives, maybe partly as a reminder that they are nice people in spite of what their church did for Prop 8, or maybe as an outreach idea-- I totally would have gone to an Episcopalian singles group when I was single. Anyone want to start one?

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

We Interrupt Our Regularly Scheduled Programming...

For a quick link to someone else's blog post. Wonderfully interesting thoughts on Christian modesty over at


Thursday, January 10, 2013

My Religious Bucket List in Chicago, Part 2: First United Methodist Church at the Chicago Temple

Three days after our Longest Night service, my Woman and I found ourselves at the Chicago Temple for a Sunday service at First United Methodist Church. The building was smack downtown, right across from a Christmas market in Daley Plaza. My Woman had never been to a Methodist church before, but I felt right at home-- it reminded me of both my Presbyterian roots and my Episcopalian/Anglican future. Justly so-- Charles Wesley, as my former chaplain teased Methodists, lived and died an Anglican.

My Woman and I were pleased to note that we sang multiple Charles Wesley hymns. And, we joked, we think the pastor mentioned Charles Wesley more than God. (Just as well we Anglicans don't have a charismatic founder like that-- no one would dream of doing that with Henry VIII!)

Afterwards, we took a  tour of the church. We were primarily interested in seeing the Sky Chapel-- a chapel on the top floor of what was once the tallest building in all Chicago and what is still the highest place of worship in the city. It's definitely beautiful and worth a look!

One thing that moved me in particular was the frequently emphasized motif of comparing Chicago with the new Jerusalem. Two altars -- one on the ground floor and one in the sky chapel-- had carvings of Jesus looking out over Jerusalem and Chicago respectively. The stained glass windows featured not only your typical Christian images of events in the Bible and your (I presume) typical Methodist images of the Wesley brothers, but also an image of Chicago. The images gave me a glimpse into what pioneers and settlers must have thought as the wound their way out west-- that they were on a pilgrimage to the New Jerusalem-- and aren't we all?

Saturday, December 29, 2012

My Religious Bucket List in Chicago, Part 1: Chicago Community Mennonite Church

I know this isn't modesty related, but I wanted to talk about the religious adventure --you might call it a pilgrimage-- I'm going on. So the story is this: my Woman and I have found ourselves at home in the city of Chicago, but finding a church-home has been more of a struggle. Perhaps it's just that following up St. Clare of Assisi and Canterbury House in Ann Arbor, Michigan is impossible. We've roamed from the church where I converted in high school (which has since changed quite a bit) to a lovely high church Anglo-Catholic parish full of gay men. There are many wonderful aspects to both, but I think my Woman and I are both feeling a little listless in our walk with God-- the "spark" in the relationship feels like it's gone, if you know what I mean. Neither of us had been to church in a month when we showed up at a Longest Night service at the Chicago Community Mennonite Church.

Now, I'm fairly certain the CCMC is the only Anabaptist church I've ever been to-- and it's certainly the only non-liturgical church I've been to-- but since this was my second time at their yearly Longest Night service, I knew I wasn't going to hate it. (That's an understatement-- the first time, my Woman and I were so caught up in the service that we went caroling with them to a nursing home afterwards.)

The building (which the share with the First Church of the Brethren) is beautiful and very Chicago-- a beautiful stained-glass window looking out on a highway in a quiet neighborhood once called "so dangerous you shouldn't even go there on google maps." The people we met there were very nice without being pushy. The liturgy was a little bit from column A, a little bit from column B, you might say. They hit some great Christmassy/Advent hymns that were appropriate without being so jarringly joyful like "It came upon a midnight clear." We sang a Taize hymn as a response to a prayer. At the end, they brought it home for me with a prayer from the Episcopalian Book of Common Prayer (maybe it's also elsewhere, but that's where I know it from) that goes like this:

Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who
sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless
the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the
joyous; and all for your love's sake. Amen.

After our success with the Mennonites -- as I've been calling them because the Mennonites impressed upon me how important community is on our faith walk-- my Woman and I set out to visit my religious bucket list in the city. We've been to 2 since and are heading to another one tomorrow. I'll let you know how it goes!