August 8, 20182 Comments

Week 6: Modest is Hottest

My friend Tiffany and I were talking about modesty and she said that our bodies are powerful communicators. I don't necessarily think of mine that way most of the time. I virtually live in workout clothes and anything soft and comfy. No one could accuse me of being fashion forward. But I have seen this truth play out when I'm trying to get faster service, or help with something I don't want to do. My body can be persuasive. Sometimes this is less about what clothing I'm wearing, and more to do with the attitude and expression I'm wearing.

I haven't always respected my body. I spend the majority of my time in my head, so I forget to honor my body. I forget how Jesus came to earth in a body and then ascended in that body. Our earthy, limited bodies matter to God, not just our souls.

When I think about modesty, I tend to remember gendered dress codes, discussions of my body as inherently distracting and sexualized. I tend to get a little worked up about it. Not just for the sake of women, who have been taught that our bodies are shameful, but for the men who have been told that they are raging hormone monsters one short skirt away from destruction and damnation. That being said, our choices matter.

But what would happen if we let respect drive our clothing choices, not fear or shame?

At the Fall, God gave Adam and Eve clothing to wear. In shame, they covered themselves with fig leaves, but our Creator God crafted garments for them (Genesis 3:21). The Old and New Testaments are filled with advice and mandates on what we should wear. In her book A Year of Biblical Womanhood, Rachel Held Evans attempts to live by as many of the female-specific mandates as possible during her modesty month. She interviews women of conservative branches of Christianity in order to understand their clothing choices. 

I'm not here to get into the nitty gritty details of head coverings, number of inches above the knees, or sleeve length. I'm interested in the heart behind the modesty conversation. 

In Colossians 3, Paul begins with one of his infamous lists of don'ts. But after this he makes an interesting statement. "Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience...And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity" (Colossians 3:12, 14).

I think it would be prudent to take a step back from trying to find the absolute limit of what is appropriate and think more big picture.

As Christians, we are called to order every part of our lives around our identity as co-heirs with Christ (Romans 8:17). We live in the tension between grace and discipline, that our bodies matter, but we are more than just bodies, and in Christ there is room for both. In Jesus, we are given a new life; our bodies, minds, and hearts are given a new way to live, a new dignity. We are holy and dearly loved.

In John 8:1-11, we see Jesus come face to face with a woman "caught in the act of adultery." The Pharisees and scribes bring this woman before Jesus and ask what they should do with her. They are trying to trip him up, and they are using this terrified, and possibly barely clothed, woman to make a point.

Jesus averts his own gaze, and draws attention away from this woman by drawing in the sand.* He defuses the situation, and causes the crowd to disperse. He then speaks to this woman with respect and compassion. He gave her dignity. He saw a vulnerable woman, publicly shamed and intentionally humiliated, and he saw her as a person.

We make our choices out of this same sense of honor and dignity. In a shame-based conversation, we have to hold on to the truth of who we are. Holy. Dearly loved. The beauty of the gospel is that we have been clothed in the righteousness of Christ. We cannot earn that righteousness, but it should radically alter our priorities.

What if this didn't just mean obsessing about necklines? What if it also meant concerning ourselves with the dignity of those who made our clothing? What if it meant honoring the beauty and artistry of fashion, the vision of those called to clothe us well? What if it meant revolting against the broken supply chain, a supply chain that depends on excess and an over saturated market of cheap, short-term clothing (Shout out to my friend Kelly, who is in grad school researching this right now)?

Modesty doesn't have to be a sexualized or guilt-driven conversation. We can honor our bodies with the respect warranted for a "temple of the Holy Spirit," and broaden our vision of making Christ-centered clothing choices (1 Corinthians 6:19). Modesty doesn't mean reaching for the most convenient and cheapest potato sack.

Our bodies are not our own, but we are stewards of the bodies that we have been given. That means we get to make informed, Spirit-driven, nuanced choices that seek the prosperity and flourishing of our created selves, and also those around us, locally and globally.** 

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*The meaning of Jesus drawing in the sand has been debated essentially since it happened. I'm not here to pretend I have the definitive answer, just to say that my theory would have been a result, even if it wasn't the main point of Jesus writing in the sand. Calm down, theologians.

**I would be remiss not to mention the value of reaching out to community and trusted mentors to seek wisdom and guidance from those more experienced.

August 1, 2018No Comments

Week 5: How to Evade the Creepers

If you are a woman, you know too well that the words, “No, thank you,” coming out of your mouth have little to no effect on a certain sort of man. These men come up to you in a bar, or on the train, or in a restaurant, or at the gym, or on the street, or in the laundry mat- ok, literally anywhere- and attempt to force you into engaging with them. 

When you say no, they do not respectfully leave you in peace, they might start, in a bar, grinding up on you anyways, or persist in trying to convince you you’re making a big mistake, or call you any number of unpleasant things.

Here are some effective ways to get them to fork off. If one doesn’t work, just keep on trucking down the list. If nothing on the list works, feel free to pull out that pepper spray you definitely don’t carry around, because it’s against law in many states (insert eye roll).

AUTHOR’S NOTE: If you feel you are in danger, speak to the bartender, or someone in management, or call the police. This advice is satirical in order to make a point about what it’s like to be a woman in public. Do not engage with someone who you genuinely believe wishes to harm you.

1. Evangelize. 

2. Ask him how he feels about President Trump. Disagree with whatever he says.

3. Demonstrate that you are better than he is at something he loves.

4. Imply that you are smarter than he is.

5. Laugh maniacally with crazy eyes at his terrible jokes. Pee your pants if you need to really sell this one.

6. Randomly use the Hannibal Lector sucking noise in normal conversation (demonstrated effectively by Dwight Schrute here)

7. Hock a loogie (you’re going to want to get a decent amount of phlegm), spit it into your cocktail, swirl it with your straw, continue drinking.

8. Fart/burp, then waft it toward him

9. Stare blankly into space.

10. Talk like a pirate

11. Pick your nose, inspect the contents, then wipe it on the bar.

12. Drop words like “bro,” “dude,” or “man” when referring to him, or generally imply a lack of femininity.

13. Cut off a chunk of your own hair, present it to him on bended knee, and pledge your undying allegiance to only him

14. Talk about marriage and/or how much you want kids

15. Talk about your hopes and dreams.

16. Engage in an open discussion about mental illness or the mass incarceration of minorities

17. When he inevitably asks you to come back to his place or to the closest graveyard, pull out a butter knife and ask him to swear a blood oath first.

18. Humanize yourself in any way.

19. Mid-sentence, begin quoting apocalyptic scripture.

20. Talk about how much you liked the latest thoughtful film with a female lead.

21. Talk about your period

22. Start crying about the state of the third world.

23. Talk about your latest bowel movement, include a diagram to sell this one. If you want to take it to the next level, show him a picture of said bowel movement, commenting on the color and texture.

24. Demonstrate self-esteem

25. Challenge him to any sort of competition by assuming a gorilla-like posture, growling, exposing your lower teeth and flexing your muscles.

26. Try to recruit him for your cult/militia

27. Pull a custom sweater made of human hair out of your purse as a gift for your new lover.

28. Yank out one of your own teeth.

29. Imitate ANY of Kristen Wiig’s SNL characters (Most of Kate McKinnon’s will work, too)

July 25, 20184 Comments

Week 4: Saving Myself

When I was seventeen, the guy I was dating got me a promise ring. It said "True Love Waits," and it came with a little card that I signed, committing to stay a virgin until I was married.

Two years later, I dramatically hurled the ring into Taylor's Creek in a grand gesture of emancipation from that relationship. It landed in the marsh, not in the water... but it was a symbolic moment anyways.

I still practice and believe in abstinence. You might be thinking, I didn't know anyone still did that. Believe it, friends. Me and like 5% of the population (NOT a real stat, but also probably not too far off).

As I've matured (a bit), I've started getting more honest about what chastity means and how I practice it.

In many ways it's easy for me to take the church's eternal advice, "just don't do it", to shut out my sexuality. I've spent fifteen-ish years learning how to numb inconvenient feelings. In my mind, sexual desire was one of many feelings, including anger and sadness, that would come spilling out if I let any sort of trickle come through the dam.

And it's not like I get propositions left and right. There are no pirates asking me to give them a "midnight tour of the graveyard," or Swazi men offering to give my father 18 cows. Those are both real examples, but you'll have to wait for my book to get the full stories.

If the end goal was asexuality and complete denial of the flesh, my most efficient tool was fear. I clung to the idea of God's disappointment, that my salvation depended on my purity and anything less meant the dreaded words: "I never knew you."

I didn't want to talk about sex, because that would make it real. I didn't want to admit feelings of any kind because they were so steeped in shame.

I also believed that any libido was downright dangerous. It made me want to express myself in a manner unbefitting of a good Christian girl.

Much of purity culture hinges on the idea of "waiting." But I wasn't waiting for anything. My life didn't revolve around a desire for marriage.

I used to believe my sexuality was a privilege that I couldn't handle, like I got a full Viking range when all I could handle was an Easy-Bake Oven. I couldn't be trusted to make tea without burning the whole house down.

I am twenty-eight, and I have decided that God wants me, not a hollowed-out, numb robot. He made us beings of flesh, to feel and think and live deeply. Denying my humanity creates distance between my fellow image-bearers and me, and between the Savior who took on flesh and me.

We live in a culture obsessed with sex, and I don't think that the church is any less fixated on it. In my experience within many conservative church spaces, it has been treated as an end-all-be-all, an ultimate distinguisher between the true followers, and those who are pretending to be so. And the message of a purity-based conversation is once you're tainted, you can't go back. You gave away the best thing you had to offer your future husband. The purity rhetoric is also predominantly targeted at women.

It removes the language of grace and a theology of redemption which is a major crux of our Christian faith. 

Jamie the Very Worst Missionary posted a blog on sex several months ago, and I think she approaches the topic with a balance of realism and idealism. Read it here. 

"Culture...tells us that sex outside of marriage isn’t a big deal.

The Church...tells us that sex outside of marriage is the biggest deal of all the deals ever.

One allowed me to give it away freely, convinced I would carry no burden. The other forced me to carry a spirit crushing load."

I love this quote from Jamie. I am better at scaring myself than I am at living in the tension of acknowledging and expressing my sexuality in a healthy and faithful way. And by denying my sexuality for so long, I am ill-equipped to set boundaries when the feelings start welling up. The more I try to control them, the more they control me.

I do have some helpful outlets: hip-hop dance class, kickboxing, writing, and honest conversations with friends. More than anything, this has helped break down the barrier of shame and revealed that my sexuality isn't nearly as scary as I thought.

I mean... sort of... it's a work in progress. Baby steps.

July 18, 2018No Comments

Week 3: Saying “No”

Somewhere along the line, I heard the phrase "turn the other cheek" and assumed it meant a good Christian is a doormat. Any opportunity, any slight, or any uncomfortable situation, I thought I was just supposed to be nice.

In reality, I was twisting the meaning of the verse to justify my terror of confrontation.

My interpretation has proved itself to be problematic daily. I have many opportunities to stand my ground, but I usually end up shrinking into the background waiting for it to pass, swallowing my frustration and anger. I tell myself, It isn't a big deal. Just let it go.

Enter my twenties, during which I discovered that dancing is super fun.

I need to start by saying that I am not a good dancer, but I am an enthusiastic dancer.

It is an irrefutable fact that if you are a woman dancing alone possessing the proportions of... uhh... a pear... there are circumstances in which some random dude will come up behind you and... uhh... start dancing with you in a manner reminiscent of your most awkward high school prom.

The easiest way out of this situation is to look at your friend with panic and mouth "Help."

One could also just say "no," but so far you have not exchanged a single word with this dude.

What do you do?

I have developed a technique of moving around the dance floor like a jackrabbit. One minute I spot a dude leering at me, the next I'm in the opposite corner, hiding in plain sight among a sea of white girls dancing just as badly.

The same thing happens if a guy asks for my number and I don't want to give it to him. I'm not a good enough liar to pull off the "fake number" move. I have the right to say no. Why don't I?

For me, it's partially a lack of practice, and partially my bone deep terror of conflict. I'm so surprised and so paranoid that I just give the dude my number.

But it's also this image of a good Christian girl that I haven't fully been able to let go of. At some point, I decided that a good Christian girl doesn't say "no," unless someone is trying to sex with her, because her purity is ultimate. She is submissive (aka a doormat), demure, and agreeable. For some reason, maintaining that image with strangers is paramount.

Why do I want to be her when there are countless opposing models in the Bible? Why wouldn't I channel Ruth, who defied cultural expectations and committed to her widowed mother-in-law, went and worked in a field at great personal risk, who was both faithful and fierce? What about Mary, Lazarus' sister, who refused to participate in a woman's traditional work, instead sitting at the feet of Jesus, a place reserved for male disciples? And what about Jesus, who consistently took women out of their culturally relegated place and gave them dignity and honor, who talked to them like they were people, to whom revealed himself as Messiah, then as resurrected Lord to women, who sent women out to boldly proclaim his love? 

When I am scared of saying no, I am more concerned about protecting my image than of proclaiming the Gospel through my life. Whether it is a ministry opportunity or on the dance floor, Christ has given me a spirit that is not a slave to fear, but one of sonship-ultimate dignity and belonging (Romans 8:15).

July 11, 2018No Comments

Week 2: Bar Etiquette

I like to write in bars, mainly because I am most productive between the hours of 9pm and 1am. (Point of clarification: I do this twice a week at most. One: it's expensive, two: all of the empty calories, three: I like my liver functional) If I go on a weekday, I am generally able to get a good amount of writing done and mostly am left alone. But there are consistently dudes at various levels of intoxication who feel the need to come up to me and say "Sorry to bother you, but I just have to ask what you're writing about."

First of all, no, you don't have to ask.

Nine times out of ten, I tell the dude what I'm writing about, and he responds with a long story about himself and what he does, which ultimately has nothing to do with anything I said.

Exhibit A:

A couple weeks ago, I was at my favorite writing spot. It was a Friday, and I had four articles I wanted to get done. I'm a new freelancer, which means I don't exactly have clients lined up out the door yet. If I want to get work, I have to go and find it. I need to have ideas and content to pitch. While I am not technically on a deadline, if I don't have content to pitch, I will not get paid. No one is begging me to submit anything yet, but I like to, you know, eat and stuff.

I'm sitting at the bar, and this one dude starts talking to me. I had finished my first article and was just starting on my second one. I responded to his questions and listened to his personal view on religion (this is common: when such dudes find out that I write about faith, they explain to me how the world works).

I am a sassy person, but I also like to treat people like they are people, and I have a crippling need to be liked. Also, rejected dudes are wildly unpredictable. Add any amount of alcohol to the mix and there is no knowing what you're going to get. My strategy is generally to give them as little personal information as possible so that I seem like a human turnip, and they lose interest.

I talked to this first dude for like 40 minutes. He suggested we go to another bar, and I said, "I actually do have a lot of work to get done." He said OK and he left.

I brushed this experience off; it had been positive on the whole, and I started writing my second article. I got a whole paragraph in when another dude comes up to me and says, with no preamble, "Can I read that?"

Jesus, you need to take this wheel because I cannot with this. 

The first guy at least had the decency to wait until I was between articles.

This dude proceeds to do all the "drunk dude trying to engage the only person with ovaries in the bar" moves, one of which was, under the pretense of inspecting my tattoo, to grab my wrist (not aggressively, but still), and turn it various directions, so he could get a good look.

I paid and left.

At one point, dude number 2 said, "oh, am I bothering you?" to which I responded "I'm on a deadline and literally just spent the past 40 minutes having this same conversation with another dude, so yeah."

He then explained to me why he's an atheist and how that complicates his relationship with his mother.

I left very frustrated, wracking my brain for what I should have done differently, coming up with killer clap back I would never be able to use.

Then I thought, wait... why do I feel responsible for this? I was sitting alone, minding my own business, which I have seen many dudes do on many nights at this same bar. And they are left in peace.

I have spent time developing stratagem to avoid these interactions, until it occurred to me that it actually makes very little difference how I dress or act.

I am a woman at a bar alone. There seems to be something about the space next to me that demands to be filled. I think there is an assumption that, because I am a woman, I am not complete on my own, that in spite of being at a bar clearly working and wearing the least attractive clothing I own, I must on some level want to be interrupted. It doesn't seem fathomable that I could legitimately be there on my own by choice.

By entering into this particular cultural and secular realms, I am subject to a social contract I didn't agree to, and for which I find myself unprepared. As a Christian, I feel compelled to engage. These dudes are, after all, image bearers. As a former missionary, I feel guilty for not taking this golden moment to evangelize.

It's a complicated line to walk.

You might be thinking Well Marebs, you wouldn't have gotten this blog post out of it if this hadn't happened. What do you expect, working at a bar? It's a social setting.

A couple of weeks ago, I was sitting and writing in front of the Van Goghs at the Met when a man decided to explain to me that the reason Trump got elected was because of video games. So there's that.

July 6, 20182 Comments

Friendly or Flirting?

Monday night, I co-hosted a happy hour fundraiser at the restaurant where I used to work. The proceeds were to help fund a friend's mission trip to India. The bar area was packed with friends of friends and mutual acquaintances. As a host, I went around and talked to anyone who was standing alone or who had arrived recently... "Who do you know?", "Any questions about the menu?"

One guest looked perplexed, so I asked him the usual questions; we had some banter. I don't want to brag, but I'm basically an expert at talking to attractive dudes (This is a lie; I am not). I pointed to the bar and said, "See that guy? He's my work husband. His name is Malcolm, and he will take great care of you."

Attractive dude, "Work husband, huh? Do you have an actual husband?"

Me, "No."

AD, "Well, won't you have to leave your work husband when you get for real married?"

Me, "No... He and I are for life and if I get married, my husband will have to accept that."

AD, "Well what if Malcolm is the 'one'?"

Me, "Malcolm is gay, so I really hope he isn't."

We had a couple more interactions as the event wound down. As said attractive dude was about to leave, there was the awkward pause where he was supposed to ask for my number... but instead he said, "I'm sure I'll see you around."

Ummmm.... where?

Insert concept one from this brand-new blog series, "Things I Didn't Learn in Youth Group"

Friendly or Flirting?

Human interaction is, even at the best of times, perplexing. We are all communicating based on a lifetime of assumptions and receiving messages from the other person based on these same assumptions. The other person is doing the same. If I think about this too much, I don't understand how anyone communicates with any semblance of success.

I had just met this dude, who recognized my wrist tattoo as elvish and looked up the obscure OT reference from my shoulder tattoo and made an effort to bring it up in one of our mini-convos of the night.

I don't know if it's because my bar is on the floor or because I have the experience of the average sixth grader in this area, but I thought that meant something.

But maybe he perceived that I am slightly Type A and prefer to interact on my own terms, and expected me to be assertive.

But I thought: I made first contact, it's your turn to make a move. He was, of course, supposed to read my mind and know that.

Maybe I got it wrong. Maybe he is secretly married. Maybe he was being nice. Maybe he was interested. Maybe he's a total narcissist and I dodged a bullet.

I don't think there is a one-size-fits-all solution, but it seems like everyone is operating under their own personal set of rules when it comes to cross-gender interactions. I used to think there was one universal set of rules that everyone besides me was privy to. I thought if I could just figure out these rules, I would have a fool-proof map of male-female communication.

There are no rules. It's just a free for all, a melee during which I mostly end up like the Black Knight from Monty Python. I only connect the dots retrospectively and morosely sing "Maybe This Time" from Cabaret alone in my apartment. I'm kidding. You can't sing that song morosely.  

Anyways, Richard, if you're out there, I left a business card for you at the restaurant. Just in case.

Communicator. Creator. Coach.

© 2020 Mary B Safrit LLC. All Rights Reserved.

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