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

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!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Sexy Dolls Study and Religious Modesty

I suppose by now most of you have seen the article by C.R. Starr and G.M. Ferguson entitled "Sexy Dolls, Sexy Grade-Schoolers? Media and Maternal Influences on Young Girls' Self-Sexualization." The article has been covered a bunch, mostly with people expressing their shock and horror that 6-year-olds want to be sexy. I have to tell you, as someone who works with large groups of kids, I wasn't surprised at all.

The part you likely didn't hear much about was that they looked at mothers' religiosity as a protective factor (ie. would a child exposed to lots of sexualization in the media still want to be sexy at age 6 if her mother is more religious?). That, for me, was the most interesting part. Now, mind you, this was a majority Christian, majority White, midwestern U.S. sample, so Heaven only knows if you could actually generalize this to other people, but it's interesting nonetheless.

So here are the basics: girls were shown a sexily-dressed doll and a fashionably-dressed, but in more modest clothes. (You can check out that image here.) They were asked to choose which doll 1) looked most like them, 2) looked most like they wanted to look like, 3) looked most like the "popular girl" and 4) they'd want to play with the most.

Mothers were asked about a bunch of things, including how often they monitor their kids' TV use, how they feel about their bodies/appearances and their religiosity. The religiosity questions included: "How important is religion to your daily life?" and "How important do you think it is to teach your children your religious values?" This, in and of itself, is pretty cool. Most studies measuring religiosity just ask how often you attend religious services. That can be useful, but there's a huge difference between someone who goes to church once a week and doesn't think about it at all during the rest of the week versus someone who may not even go to weekly religious services, but who thinks about their religion all the time during the week.

The verdict was this: many of those thing that we all expect make children want to be "sexy" did, but only a little. Media influence? Yup. Mothers' opinions of their bodies? Sure. Of course, if you monitor your child's TV/internet/magazine use, that goes down a little. But what about religion?

Well, if a child watched a lot of TV and had a very religious mother, she was still likely to choose the more modest-dressing doll as who she wanted to look like most. And if a child's mother taught her about religion more, she was less likely to choose the "sexy" doll as popular. And the more religious the mother, the more likely a girl was to choose to play with the modestly-dressed doll.

Here's the kicker though: if a child watched very little TV and had a religious mother, she was more likely to say she wanted to look like the sexy doll.

Moral of the story, maybe? Being sequestered from the media only makes "sexiness" this forbidden fruit that everyone else has. But when you see "sexy" things on TV, but your nearest and dearest same-sex role model (because, let's be honest, for most 6-year-olds, that's mommy) is offering a modest alternative, that's the one you're more likely to pick.

This is good-- religiosity is just like every other part of your life; it can be used for good or evil. So choose wisely, my friends.

Starr, C., & Ferguson, G. (2012). Sexy dolls, sexy grade-schoolers? media and maternal influences on young girls' self-sexualization. Sex Roles, doi: 10.1007/s11199-012-0183-x

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

A Wedding Dress Guide for the Modest Bride

I know I've abandoned this blog lately, but there's definitely a dearth of info for modest brides on the web, so I feel like this needs to be said.

I have finally wrapped up my wedding dress shopping, so I thought I'd include a post for anyone out there looking for modest wedding gowns. Be forewarned: it's ridiculous.

So let's start off with this: if you live in a community where your modesty standards are, if not the norm, pretty common, you can probably disregard this entire post. Mormons living in Utah? That's you. Tzniut women in Brooklyn? You too. The only exception is if you walk into your local modest wedding dress shops and find that they all sell the same kind of dress and you don't like it. (I feel like this a lot in tzniut stores, to be honest-- too much my-wedding-cake-ate-my-dress, not enough Grace Kelly.) Then, you should probably stick around.

First thing first, you could try your local modest retailers. Don't limit yourself to just your particular modesty standards. If you're tzniut, you won't look out of place in a hijabi wedding gown (minus the actual headpiece). By the same token, if you're tzniut and you try on a Temple-ready Mormon gown, it will be a lot easier to modify it to tzniut standards. In Chicago, I've found that there aren't a lot of modest wedding dress retailers. I actually ended up driving down to St. Louis to the wonderful Chatfield's to find a modest wedding gown store. (The dresses were beautiful and the service was absolutely wonderful, but they were ultimately not what I was looking for.)

If you find your perfect dress at a modest wedding store, yay!-- you're done. For the rest of us, we move on to the generic wedding retailer. Let me just get started by saying this is a total trip. Wedding dress shops are a totally different world where all the rules you learned about life in modern society go out the window. And not necessarily in a good way.

Now, as a rule, I would stick to small retailers, and here's why. Wedding gown stores are frequently packed to the brim with people. (When it's a small store, it could just be you and your small entourage-- when it's a big store it could be 20 other people and every member of their respective bridal parties.) And most of the assistants at wedding gown stores have lost every sense of modesty they ever had. It's just the nature of the business, I think. The last thing you want (and I speak from experience) is your bridal assistant throwing open the door of your dressing room to show your mother a dress you were wearing when you're as naked as the day you were born (or only slightly less so) and then refusing to close it while you get back in the dress-- while dozens of other brides and their families walk by.

So here's my fabulous guide to not having that happen to you.
  • First, pick a small store that carries a designer who makes modest gowns or gowns that can be made modest. (Note: just because a store carries a designer doesn't mean they carry all their gowns, so if you have one you really want to see, ask about it on the phone before you make your appointment.)
  • When you're making an appointment, mention your modesty requirements if you feel comfortable doing that. (Note: if you do this and they jump down your throat, you can cancel the appointment or you can say, "I know maybe none of your gowns meet this requirement right away, but I'd love to look at some gowns that would be easy to alter to fit my specifications." That usually calms people down.) Now would also be a good time to ask questions like how many brides have appointments at the store at once. A lot of smaller places only see one or two brides at a time and that makes it so much easier to be modest.
  • Before you go to your appointment, get the right clothes. If you're Mormon, absolutely wear your garments-- since you have to cover them anyway, this covers everything you need the gown to cover and it gives you an extra layer of modesty while they're ripping gowns on and off of you faster than you can blink. If you're tzniut or hijabi and you don't have handy underwear that covers everything you expect the dress to cover, you have a couple of options. One, you could find said underwear. Two, you could do some combo of slip and t-shirt. This way, instead of being buck naked under the gown, you have another layer. I ended up borrowing a slip from my mother. The skirt was long enough that I felt reasonably covered and the neckline was as deep as I'd ever want my wedding dress neckline to be. Do remember that this ensemble shouldn't be too bulky.
  • Once you get to the appointment, wearing whatever undergarments you've decided on, remind them of your requirements again. They may direct you to any modest gowns they already have. If they don't have any, they will likely ask you to pick out some samples of gowns you think would work. Go to town. Don't be afraid to ask if they think their seamstress could modify it and HOW. I can't stress that enough. If no one in the store can at least give you a vague idea of how to modify it, you don't want to even try.
  • As you head to your dressing room, see if you feel comfortable with the arrangement. Often in small stores, you'll get a whole real room to yourself. You can always ask for something more private, but they won't always be able to accommodate.
  • Once you get in the dressing room, you undress and the sales assistant helps you put the dress on. Some places will let other people help you with this (your mom or whomever you brought with you) but most won't. Before you tell me you don't need help getting dressed, let me tell you you're wrong. Everyone needs help getting a wedding dress on. Why? Because stores only carry samples in one (or maybe two, if you're very lucky) size-- it's usually what's called a "bridal 10" which fits a lot like a regular American 6 or 8 depending on the designer. If you don't wear a 6 or an 8 regularly, there will be a lot of tugging and pulling and clipping to make it look like it's supposed to look-- or even to get it to stay on. I've had the occasional gown fit perfectly, but most of the time I need anywhere from two to ten clips to keep it on.
I went through a whirlwind of stores and I have a couple quick recommendations near Chicago. First, House of Brides in Aurora, Illinois  has a decent selection of Mormon gowns and a vague appreciation for modesty. I've also heard wonderful things about Jasmine Galleria in Lombard, which does a kind of create-your-own-dress where you select a basic, strapless style and can add sleeves and necklines of your choice. (Check out their Temple Ready selection.) Ultimately, though, I didn't go with gowns from any of these places.

So... what to do when you've gone through all my above steps at a zillion stores and still can't find the gown? Or, alternatively, you don't have the budget for any of that? (Be aware though, Chatfield's is very reasonably as wedding gowns go-- more so even than David's Bridal or the like.) Well, then, on to the next battle.
  • Check out antique stores and second-hand clothing stores. Vintage gowns are much more likely to be modest than modern gowns. They're also often much more reasonable.
    • Now vintage stores may pose an additional problem-- where do you try on your dress? Most stores I've been to don't have a dedicated dressing room. All I can say for this is: wear something made of thin material that you might be able to slide under a dress, if at all possible.
    • Also be aware of your vintage size. Your vintage size is often several sizes bigger than your current size. For example, I'm something like an 8 or 10 American. When I'm looking for vintage dresses, I look at dresses ranging anywhere from size 12 to size 16.
    • Also remember that bigger is always better: if you find the perfect dress, but it's 2 sizes too big, buy it! Taking a dress in is easier and cheaper than letting one out. It also might give you extra material if you need to add to the neckline or sleeves.
      • That brings me to an important point! If you're shopping for a modest wedding dress at vintage stores, those dresses will probably be harder to modify, because you won't be able to contact the designer to get more of the exact fabric. If you have a creative tailor, though, there are often fun ways around this. Just be aware when you go in.
  • Also look online. While going online always carries a huge risk of not seeing what you're ordering beforehand, it also has some great options.
    • You could order a custom gown from one of the wonderful sellers on Etsy.
    • You could order from a department store or wedding boutique. (I ended up getting a Tadishi Shoji dress with long lace sleeves from Nordstrom.)
    • You could also order from one of those cheap copycat retailers based in places like China. No word on whether this actually works out for people, though...
So that's how I did it, at least. And in the end, I ended up with a gorgeous gown that will only need to be tailored a little to meet my modesty standards. Good luck to you and happy shopping! Let me know if you have any suggestions to add!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Light on a Hilltop VS. Hypocrite on the Street Corner

Welcome to Lent, everyone!

Regardless of your religious affiliation, you probably noticed a few people walking around yesterday with ash crosses on their foreheads. Depending on where you are, you might even have noticed priests on street corners handing out ashes.

There's a lot of fuss out there about what to do with the ashes. Do you rub them off afterwords or do you walk around advertising your religion all day? It's actually part of a much more contentious debate in Christianity as a whole, at least in the parts of Christianity I've had a glimpse of. The great debate is: Light on the Hilltop (Matt. 5:14) vs. Hypocrite on the Street Corner (Matt. 6:5). These are both descriptions Jesus has used to describe believers who act out their faith publicly. Since this is something I do on a regular basis with covering my hair, it's something that I'm always wrestling with.

The clincher of the Light on the Hilltop story (it's actually a light in a city on a hill) is this: "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven" (KJV Matt. 5:16). "Your light," I believe, is your faith from God so if you are both letting your light shine and doing what God says you're supposed to be doing, it brings other people to worship God. That's important. You're not supposed to be just showing off.

That's where the whole Hypocrites on the Street Corner thing comes in. Jesus specifically mentions that these people get rewarded for their devotion-- this is where the well-known verse about storing your treasures in Heaven comes in. If you're getting praised just for practicing your faith, well, obviously that's not the goal. I feel like it's pretty easy to tell these people from the ones above (although it's maybe much harder to identify the difference in ourselves). The hypocrites just seem slimy and unctuous and they're more likely to put you off the faith than turn you on to it.

Now, if you're concerned you might be a hypocrite, I suppose you could say that it's better just to keep quiet about your faith to be safe, but I have a problem with that. Here's my problem: Look around at the people who are public about their faith. Often, it's the people blowing things up or driving teenagers to suicide. When we normal people don't go public about our faith, it's these hypocrites who end up being the spokespeople for religion. No wonder people are leaving religion in droves! That's why I try to go public about my faith-- the world needs to know that not all of us our hypocrites. Hopefully, I can help with that.

Anyone else have reasons why the decided to be publicly faithful? Or not?

Thursday, January 19, 2012

How to Get Young People to Come to Church

Since our move to Chicago, my Woman and I seem to spend a lot of time church-shopping-- you know, finding the church that's right for us. In the meantime, we've seen how blessed we were before with two wonderful churches --thank God for St. Clare's and Canterbury House-- and how hard it is as "young people" to find a Home in the church. So, although this is rather off topic, I have a list of things I'd like to say to every church I've been to that's trying to recruit "young people."

How about you? Does this list match up to what you wish you could say to your churches or synagogues or mosques? What would you change?

So, here we go: Allie's 10 Sure-Fire Ways to Recruit "Young People" to Church

  1. We get enough advertising campaigns from Apple and Ikea. Skip the marketing and be real!
  2. We like pop. (Some of us.) We also like hip-hop, rock, jazz, techno, country, 18th Century Charles Wesley hymns, and genres you’ve never even heard of.
  3. Talk to us if we show up to church.
  4. If we’re not showing up to church, don’t give us flak about it! Our reasons for going or not going to church are just as complex as anyone else’s.
  5. Try not to beg for money too hard. When you need to beg for money (because don’t we all in this economy!), refer to #1. It’s not about give-the-church-money-or-you’ll-rot-in-Hell; I’m pretty sure God would be just as content with my donation to Unicef. A church is a business just like everything else. You need money to keep the lights on and pay the priest and buy materials for the Sunday School classrooms. Tell us that.
  6. We, like everyone else, need to participate. This doesn’t mean we need our own special group, although that’s sometimes nice. Welcome us into your choir, let us teach Sunday School, or invite us to Bible studies.
  7. If you have a group for us, please stop trying to be cool unless you’re already that cool to begin with. Why? For starters, not all of us are cool, so we don’t need a church that has all the same cliques as the rest of our lives. And lets face it, we can tell when you’re faking it, so please refer to #1.
  8. Don’t make us choose between our faith and our friends of other faiths. If you do, odds are good we’ll pick our friends-- not because we don’t believe, but because we don’t want a church we can’t bring our friends to.
  9. Don’t be stupid about science or social issues-- if you have to be stupid about them, be stupid quietly. Lots of us stay away from church because all we ever hear about church is how church-goers “don’t believe” in evolution or gay people. If church focused more on worshiping together than pushing beliefs on people, it’d appeal more to us.
  10. On that note, don’t force us to believe things and be open to doubt. Everyone doubts-- think Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane or Thomas after the Resurrection. If we have to have all our doubts cleared up before we walk in the door, you'd never see us! (You probably wouldn't see half your older parishioners for that matter, either!)