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!