Dress Code

I just got back from not quite two weeks in Israel and Jordan with the Campbell University Divinity School Study Tour (for a full recap, head over here–and keep reading. There are about 12 posts).

One of our leaders reflected in his blog today about the dress code to which we had to adhere in various places on our trip. Sites owned/run/overseen by various faith groups required modest dress, which basically meant no shorts or bare shoulders or too much neck. We didn’t have any men wearing wife beaters in our group, so it meant they had to resort to pants–usually the convertible kind in which the legs were unzipped to shorts rather quickly later in the day. It did mean the women had to be more prepared about their dress. Our leader was mindful of the schedule and would let us know when we had to think about what we were wearing–if the women weren’t already mindful about asking. And so we would appear at the bus in long skirts (worn over shorts so the skirts could easily come off later) or long pants, a shirt with a neckline that didn’t plunge and sleeves that were long enough–or a scarf to cover the tank tops some chose to wear that day. Occasionally, hats were required–usually for the men.

In some ways, it was an exercise in benevolent self-interest. Yes, our mode of dress was out of respect for the Orthodox/Catholics/Jews/Muslims who owned(?) the site. But we also knew that if we weren’t dressed appropriately, we would not be allowed to enter or participate in the site. And no one wanted to miss out on a moment of this whirlwind tour.

In the grand scheme of things, I agree with Tony’s take on whether God cares about how we appear in his/her presence. At the same time, I have a different take on the dress code.

Perhaps it’s because I’m a woman and women are usually more affected by these things.

We all have our visions of how Arab or Muslim women dress. Usually they have on long sleeves and pants, and their heads are covered in a hijab. I can count on one finger the number of times I have seen a full burqa in the US. The same was true in the Arab areas we visited. Usually, the women (and girls) wore long sleeves, pants and hijab. I can count on 7 fingers the number of full burqas I saw (which may speak to the more liberal nature of Palestinians and Jordanians–or that these areas are more secular than you might expect).

Although I’m not advocating the burqa, I must confess that it was nice to have to wear pants and short or 3/4 length sleeves. Although wearing a burqa rubs my feminist fibers the wrong way, it sure does take the question out of what to wear, feeling like there’s nothing to wear, and wondering how one’s butt looks in those jeans. And so, in some ways, I appreciated being made to cover up. Then there is no question about the usual things with which American (and I’m sure other Western) women are so obsessed (tan lines, varicose veins, cellulite, arm jiggle, leg jiggle, chub rub…the list, I’m sure, goes on).

The dress code also makes me mindful of our typically less than modest modes (or retail choices) of dress for women and girls in our country. When thong underwear is marketed to girls who are barely in elementary school, we have a problem. Our daughters become sexualized way too soon; our women spend far too much time and energy trying to pull hard in the tug of war of aging in an effort to keep an iron grip on youth and beauty.

Would that we all take more time to think about our dress–not resorting to sack cloth and ashes, but keeping some things under wraps more than we do–and about what our bodies can and were made to do instead of how they look or are adorned.

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A New Take on Christmas

It is time for Advent, and I usually spend my Sunday mornings in a church that goes through the Advent…liturgy(?)…but that’s not the case for me this year. The church we’ve been attending hasn’t mentioned Advent…that’s not their style. Of course, we really haven’t been attending that church…or any…for quite some time. Back on the church search train. Something for which I don’t really have the energy right now…even though I have the desire to find a community that’s is a good fit for all of us.

In the mean time, however, I’ve been spending my Sunday mornings resting, reading, doing yoga, baking…other practices that in some way honor the Sabbath–but don’t feel like they do down here in the Bible belt. And…I really do want to be part of a church community.

All that to say…I started reading a new book recently, and I’m finding that now is the perfect time to read it: Jesus Wants to Save Christians by Rob Bell.

It’s actually a perfect book to read as part of Advent. Rob goes into the history of the Jewish nation–starting from Genesis and moving to Exodus, then Solomon, then the Exile (don’t worry, it is by no means exhaustive). As he traces the Jewish story and the many parallel processes of Israel trying to become a priestly nation (one full of people whose primary aim was to worship and serve–which should go hand in hand)…and failing. Each time, God tries to renew the covenant. Each time, Israel does something else to move further East (East of Eden…Nod…away from God…exile…read the book). Enter the need for a different kind of God in a different form to establish a different covenant–that still gets the job done.

Reading the story of the Jews and the many parallels between their history and the story of Jesus has been fascinating–and meaningful. Particularly as we wait and prepare for the Christmas season. That’s what Advent is about–waiting and preparing. That’s was the Jews were doing in exile. And, let’s face it–we are all a people in exile in some way. Suffice it to say, I’m thankful I picked this time to pick up this book. It’s a good read for Christmas–even if it wasn’t meant to be.