In my year+ of spiritual seeking, I’ve found one inalienable Rebecca-Truth. If I have a severe reaction to something, it’s either A) Spiritual shrapnel that needs to be removed or B) Progress yet to be made. Either way, it needs digging out.
And, in the case of this blog article on Christian modesty “I Was Confronted For Being Immodest” ? It’s shrapnel.
When said post recently went viral, I allowed myself to be sucked into its downward spiral.
(Progression: Read Post. Read comment thread. Get ANGRY. Slam doors. Slam more doors. Read more. Get angrier. Say aloud: My whole damn project wasn’t worth anything! Why? Because I have trouble just saying Live and let live—when a nice young mother–with an innocent heart– if an ill-fitting wardrobe– is being bullied in the name of the Lord for her church-dress choice. And submitting to said bullying without a fight!)
Upon expressing my frustration with the article and with myself, I had this conversation with a friend. Me: Is it judgmental if this post makes me go Uggggggghhhh! ? Friend: Why can’t you just say that’s one way to do it and move on? Me: That’s totally easy if it isn’t personal. Friend: You’re making it personal. Me:UGGGGHHHHH!
I considered his point—albeit huffing and puffing with disdain. I recognized that this post had nothing to do with me. I do not know this woman, nor am I involved in a religious environment that would pass this type of judgment. ( And I highly doubt the all-loving Divine wastes time being incensed over an allegedly improper skirt choice. Isn’t He kinda busy, like, running the Universe-at-large?)
So why did reading this feel like an MRI machine, pulling up bullet fragments from long-forgotten wounds? Why did it feel so personal?Because this post magnetized my every memory of being shamed in the name of God, every time I was bullied for the Cause of Christ. Every time I had submitted to spiritual abuse because I needed to have a teachable heart, and God clearly wasn’t happy with my learnin’.
This article called up a militia of bad memories, ready for action and lined in a neat row stretching back as far as kindergarten. It made my heart do an involuntary quick-draw, pointing my weapon at a viewpoint that had decimated my faith. It inspired me to raise my gun of rationale, wave it in the face of all that hurt, and demand it step aside because You are SO not allowed in my space anymore.
It also caused my newfound faith to briefly falter because due to my past pains, I briefly forgot my belief that there is Truth in all genuine viewpoints. And instead of gently untangling my feelings and simply moving on,—Live and let live–I got stuck in a mental battle, the kind that never has a winner.
This is how it is between me and this viral blog post on modesty. I would much rather have a pentagram drawn on my forehead than have a deacon’s wife bully me about the choiceness of my dress… or let anyone else be thusly shamed. (Hell, I’d rather eat rat meat sacrificed to an idol!) This post and its comment thread? It’s my ex-est of ex-boyfriends, armed with a firearm that’s pointed straight at my temple.
After a few days of mulling over my reaction though, I realized ANY judgmental beliefs, even (and especially!) mine, are like raising a gun to the head of someone else’s worldview. Just take one menacing step towards me, and I blow your brains out, sir.
But for every gun you have pointed at someone else, there’s an infinite number pointed at you. It’s like a gangster movie stand-off, if said gangsters were clad in self-righteousness instead of leather jackets.
For example, if you say a skirt touching the knee is godly, there are a hundred ladies who would declare you immodest. For those who think mid-calf length is appropriate, plenty of sects would tell you that God only approves of ankle-length skirts. And don’t forget the Amish, who believe a woman may only worship in a head covering. There are even religious guns pointed at their bonnets because many think them too religious (bound up by codes that presumably jumped off the deep end when they declared electricity to be evil). This struggle is not unique to Christianity–no– it is pervasive in most faiths, the veritable What Not to Wear of religion.
Today, I’ve decided that if crying about your clothing choices and tossing an offending dress in the garbage makes you feel like a better person and makes you feel closer to honoring your God in spirit and in truth, who am I to say it doesn’t?
So I’m laying down my weapon, kicking it aside, and waving my (possibly immodest!) clothing –depending on who’s judging my sweatpants & t-shirt— in a gesture of surrender. Granted, I’ll still be at the mercy of everyone else.
But at least I won’t be the one with the gun.
With accidental start and end dates of Pentecost Sunday (’11) and Easter Sunday (’12), I have successfully completed my 30+ visits.But…I’m not done yet! The completed are, in no particular order:
1.Living Word Church (my childhood church) 2. King Ave Methodist (GLBTQ Reconciling) 3. Lake Erie Drive-in 4. Buddhist Temple 5.Pentecostal Mega-church 6.Baptist 7.African-American Baptist 8.Movie Theater Rock 9.Hindu Temple 10.Synagogue 11.Roman Catholic 12. Eastern Orthodox 13.Vineyard 14.Jehovah’s Witness 15.Mormon 16.Atheist 17.Stadium 18.Christian Spiritualist 19.Emergent Independent 20.Quaker 21.Hare Krishna 22.Scientology 23.Unitarian 24.Baha’i 25. Storefront Redeemed 26.Christian Science 27. Stone Village 28.Sikh 29.Naturalist 30.Taize 31. Vertias (church of the boot camp) 32. Seventh Day Adventist
(Note: My blog checklist is typically behind because I have to rely on my web programmer to change it.)
I was heavy on the Christian churches, especially in the beginning, so I am doubling back to attend a few originally on the list and several additions before the 5/15 deadline:
–Native American–Amish–Pagan and/or Wiccan–Kabbalah–Mosque
Though I’ve not had luck locating the following in my area, I am still interested in:
–Zoroastrianism–Tao–Sufi–Xenos–African/tribal–Voodou–Virtual–Rastafaria–Gnostic–Jainism–Confusionism–Shinto–New Thought–Polytheistic (any culture, but particularly Celtic)–Shamanism–Snake-handlers
With continual help from the Spirit, I’ve gone from Post-traumatic Church Syndrome (barely being able to enter a church) to being able, and excited, to attend places of worship of all faiths and even non-faiths. I’ve also completed a Thirty-Day fast, studied Ancient Christian and Buddhist meditation, read extensively on multiple religions, sorted out my own beliefs, found a faith I can believe in, known and seen my God, changed my career, discovered my ministry and calling, started this blog–thanks to the good advice of someone wise, written nearly 100,000 words for the book (probably only 10,000 that are any good!), survived three physical and one spiritual bootcamp & , (surprise!) found a church, and much, much more. But these are stories and conclusions for other days! I still have much more to write about. So, let the quest and the blog continue
I nearly quit Thirty by Thirty at least a dozen times. So…for all those who have followed and encouraged this journey…thank you! For those who have criticized it…thank you as well. Everyone who has touched this path has helped it toward completion. I’m not done yet. And probably never will be!
All my love–Reba
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I’d like to address a few of the questions I’ve received on my recent Thirty Day fast:
So…what did you eat? Nothing. I didn’t chew for 30 days, nor did I drink alcohol. I also tried to limit medications. I did take in copious amounts of vitamins, lots of juice (organic if possible), and sugar-free protein on workout days. (Yes, I still did boot camp.)
Isn’t that UNHEALTHY? Well, not for me. Obviously I’m here, I’m fine and, it could be argued, in better health than I have ever been. But I would like to be VERY CLEAR that an extreme fast could ABSOLUTELY be unhealthy for a given person depending on factors such as overall health, weight, lifestyle, mental state, etc. PLEASE DO NOT CONSIDER an extreme fast without A.) A very specific calling to undertake it and B.) Consulting your doctor.
Why did you choose to fast for thirty days? First, I didn’t choose to fast for 30 days. God asked me to. (There will be much more on this when I cover the fast in depth between April 15th and May 15th). A 30-day fast is something I never would have thought of, nor did I think I could do it. I was called to fast in December, and it took me nearly three months of wrestling with the concept and telling God there was NO WAY I could possibly ever do that before I surrendered and… just did it. Once I got towards the end, I wanted to do 40 days, but that was made impossible by a pre-planned family vacation.
How much weight did you lose? It is inconsequential….that was NOT the point. This was purely spiritual venture. I like to say some of the excess weight enabled me to complete the fast, but it was in no way a diet attempt. There isn’t enough willpower in my world.
Why did you stop blogging during the fast? Part of the reason fasting, especially long-term fasting, is spiritually effective is because it clears out your life of everything that isn’t entirely necessary. Due to the vast physical, mental, emotional and spiritual strain, fasting forced me to re-evaluate every activity in my life by these two questions: 1.) Is [activity] actively bringing me closer to God and/or 2.) Is [activity] absolutely necessary? In addition to ceasing blogging, I limited my activities to work, prayer, meditation, necessary household duties, spending time with my husband, and LOTS of sleeping.
Why didn’t you tell anyone? Fasting is a personal matter between you and your God. It is extremely difficult, and there is no place for the critical negativity of others. You’re already doubting yourself…you don’t need anyone else to doubt you. Also, to be brutally honest, I often thought I was going to fail. (Daily. Sometimes minute-ly.) I didn’t want to announce, “Hey, I am doing this 30-day fast!” only to say, “Hey, I quit on day 10.”
I hope that clears a few things up! Also, as mentioned, I will be writing in detail about the fast and what I learned starting on April 15th. But if you are interested in the basics of how I got through it…check out this post.
And now the Super-Secret Project and reason for my blog hiatus: I completed a Thirty Day total fast (no food, no alcohol) yesterday at sunset. The experience was completely incredible and entirely life-changing. Much more to come in the next month about how and why I did it, why I kept it a secret (even from family and friends!)…and what it did for me. Make no mistake: if you fast for 30 days? God shows up. For now…this is how it went… and how I got through it:
Ten percent Luck /Twenty percent Skill / Fifteen percent concentrated Power of Will / Five percent Pleasure / Fifty percent Pain /And a Hundred percent reason to Remember the Name [Lyrics Fort Minor]
“What if churches were like…beauty pageant contestants?” I asked my favorite beauty queen Scholarship Pageant Contestant friend.
We were playing hooky on Wednesday afternoon, contemplating life and her upcoming Miss Greater City appearances over $3 martinis (Weekday afternoons are the best time for cheap drinks! Unless said drinking causes you to question your status as an alcoholic… Which I did not.)
“Hmmm…” she gravely considered. (As gravely as possible over cheesy fries.) ” That could work. Though you’d have to call them Scholarship Contestants as to not offend.”
“I’m fine with that. Bartender, one more! And blank receipt paper, please!” I grabbed a pen and started my list, with much help on the particulars from Miss Greater City. A note on MGC: she is an ebony beauty so pretty that it hurts my eyes to look at her.I have to wear sunglasses to deflect the glare from her multiple crowns. (When we go out I content myself with being Number 2 Vanilla because Number 1 Chocolate? So much better…especially when she comes with sparkly sprinkles!)
So, without further ado…the envelope please! Awards for the first half of Thirty by Thirty go to….
-Beauty and Swimsuit: Catholic! There was a unanimous decision by the judges. Catholic cathedrals really have no competition when it comes to glitz & glamour…from slate roofs and soaring towers to marble floors, these churches have it goin’ on!
Best-dressed: Eastern Orthodox! Bishops’ robes include a fabulous display of color (red!blue!green!), gold sparkle, lace and satin. Their fantastic head-ware sealed the deal for us.
-Talent: The historically African-American Baptists! Another unanimous decision by the panel…is there anything more rousing than an hour of rhythmic harmonizing combined with clapping, stomping, and “Praise the Lords!”? We don’t think so! Not to mention their creative use of the organ trills to punctuate the sermon…chills all around…Hallelujah! We dare you to not tap your toes while listening to the Power of the Gospel choir.
Miss Congeniality: Hindu...but it is worth noting that it was a close race with the African-American Baptists. The head judge received many more hugs from the latter, but the former were the most radically welcoming.
Interview: Pentecostal Mega-Church! (The panel offers that this winner was eliminated in the first round due to rule-breaking including abuse of other contestants and refusal to compete in beauty/swimsuit portions. However, the interview award was given prior to dismissal.) One person is responsible for earning this award…Dot, a fellow pew-sitter who was kind enough to give the judges a briefing on the Gifts of The Spirit, including the Speaking of Other Tongues, which she proudly demonstrated for us.
Scholarship: Quaker! This was a near-tie with the Atheists because of the academic nature of the discourse. However, the Quakers invited the judges to lunch, over which they discussed spiritual theory of multiple denominations. Several of the participants work as college professors or scientists which increased the overall smartness factor.
Team Spirit: Stadium. “Nuf said. See post regarding stadium worship here.
And the GRAND SUPREME WINNER OF ROUND TWO IS …..
The Historically African-American Baptists! Due to their overall greatness in Talent and Congeniality, with honorable mentions in all other categories. Best Dressed: Colorful choir robes! Team Spirit: Obviously! Scholarship: We learned much about Joseph of the Old Testament from the Sermon! Interview: They interviewed us as visitors! (More to come on this story!) Beauty and Swimsuit: Lovely stained glass was complemented by all the beautiful hats worn by the Ladies of the Church!
Please note these awards are only the second round! The final winners will be announced after May 15th, 2012.
My Barefoot Buddha (BB) look-a-like in-a-loincloth greeted me warmly and, after I told him about Thirty by Thirty, offered to give me a tour and explanation of the temple goings-on. His manner matched his jolly, pot-bellied look: friendly, sweet and funny. After seeing his attire and noticing several other shirtless men and several almost-shirtless women, my fears about the Very Sari melted away. I couldn’t do anything about being white, but at least the dress was OK and no one was laughing at me (that I know of).
Now, dear readers, if you have ever taken the time to consider what the inside of a Hindu temple might look like, perhaps you will understand my confusion when I noticed it was constructed of drywall and indoor/outdoor carpet.(I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised since the majority of new church building in the US are similarly constructed, but I did feel slightly…let down.) I was expecting stone! And more stone! Maybe even ruins!
Well. What the room lacked in stone it made up for in statues of gods and goddesses. BB instructed me to move only counter-clockwise around the perimeter and to take a lap to greet each god/goddess before continuing on to the next. “Greeting” includes a combination of possible rituals including bowing ( at the waist or prostrating on the floor), silent prayer, the offering of gifts (money, flowers, fruit). Prostration in the Very Sari was impossible and I didn’t have any gifts to bring, so I settled on a slight bow and silent prayer. So I greeted (nicely, I hope) each multi-breasted/handed/headed statue with as much reverence as I could muster. The process much reminded me of curtsying and crossing before a crucifix in the Catholic church, if said crucifix were to have multiple appendages and expressions, and be located behind a pane of glass, much like a very large jewelry display case. The glass is so the gods are not defiled by human touch, and there are so many because people need different representations to relate to the Divine. Now. That is something I can get behind. BB and I briefly discussed how the idea of a male-only god could get in the way of reaching the divine for someone who had say, been abused by a man.
[I really like the idea of a female half of God. Isn't there something terribly lacking about a patriarchal God who is oh-so-ready-to-smite you but is also the epitome of Love? Catholics partially remedy this with the idea of our Mother, the Virgin Mary. Throughout mystic history, it is not God the Father but rather the Divine Mother who often appears to distribute Love and Light to mortals. Much like the multiple renderings of Hindu gods,Catholics also utilize Saints for divine inspiration, a whole lot of them in fact. I vividly recall seeing (greeting?) relics of the Saints behind glass walls in the cathedrals of Europe: bones,parts of garments, chips of earthenware, they were all "greeted" by reverent Catholic pilgrims. Granted, no one prostrated fully. But more than one looked like they wanted to, with"crazy eyes" that seemed to say if I can only get close enough I could touch the divine. None of the Hindus looked particularly crazy, but the goal of their greeting devotion seemed clear:I come before you, offering myself and my gifts, that I might be blessed.Not much different than a Christian pre-tithe prayer, is it?]
I liked all of the god/desses (once I got used to their snaky arms and squat hips), but my absolute favorite was the Unknown Fountain. (I’m quite sure that wasn’t its name, but that is how I remember it.) As I mentioned, all the other god-shrines are behind glass…except this one. A little, closed room, it features a running fountain in the middle with just enough room around the outside to shuffle single-file around it. What’s this I inquire of BB. He smiles widely. This is our monument to the invisible God who cannot be seen, who is too vast to be contained.
This is a God I know.
So I follow the line around the fountain, carefully copying the actions of the people in front of me. Walk halfway around the fountain. Stop. Bow head. Pick up ladle. Dip into fountain. Pour water over top stone. Dip hand in fountain, touch water to forehead. Kiss hand. Exit.
Whatd’ya know…surprise!…Holy (Hindu) Water! And a monument to The God Who Cannot Be Seen.
“For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’ ” Acts Chapter 17
To be continued…
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