Monday, August 26, 2013

DBAA :: {Conflict Resolution}

The other day I was on the tail end of my morning errand run, and had rounded the corner to a park I had promised to take Xander if he and Manasseh were good while we were out and about.  Psalty's If I Were A Butterfly was playing in the rear seat for the fiftieth time, and all three of us were ready to get the heck out of the car, and out into the sunny freedom of the playground.

A narrow street hugs the back side of the park, which is a mile long rectangle of gazebos, open grass, a toy train station, and the playground.  As I approached the narrow elbow curve, I saw that three vehicles had stopped right where it bent at a right angle.  They were completely blocking the way.

The drivers all hung out of their open windows, heads nodding up and down as they talked together, their arms slung out occasionally to accentuate a point.  I folded my arms over the top of my steering wheel.  They kept talking.

"Perhaps they're just finishing up the conversation..." I thought to myself, trying to be patient.  Psalty and the Kids Praise Band had switched to something blessedly slower paced, and I took a deep breath.  Waited a few minutes more.  Still, no movement from the threesome in front of me.

A couple more minutes passed, nobody had moved, and there was no way my Suburban could inch around them.  I gave my horn two quick taps.

The drivers all looked up at me, continued to confer for another couple of seconds, then slowly untangled their cars.  The first to pass me drove straight by, smiling determinedly at the road ahead, and refused to look at me.  This finally tipped my frustration into anger ... I mean, an acknowledgment would have been nice, at least.

Then the second truck pulled past me.  The woman behind the wheel deliberately caught my eye, gave me a sheepish look, and mouthed, "We're sorry!".

And that's really all I needed.  Her sincere look and quickly mouthed, 'sorry' diffused my anger, and I headed on with my day, to the park, where the kids and I played.

The interaction made me think, though, of all the times we inadvertently step on each other's toes.  I've been encountering it most often in the online arena, where somebody will say something that triggers somebody else, when they really weren't meaning to.  The triggered person then gets angry, and the first person then responds one of two ways.  They either say, "I don't know why you're angry, I was just _______  (insert justifiable excuse here)."  Or they say, "I see I triggered you, and I'm sorry for that."

The first instance is like the woman who drove past me, ignoring the consequences of how her behavior affected me.  The second instance is like the woman who gave me a simple but sincere apology.  That apology leveled the field again and we were able to go along with our day.

It's inevitable that we offend and are offended by people as we go through life.  Bumping up against other personalities and behaviors is going to cause conflict.  But most of the conflict can be resolved by the simple rule - DBAA.  In other words, don't be an asshole.  You stepped on somebody's toes?  Say you're sorry!  Somebody stepped on your toes?  Accept their apology!  Don't be an asshole.

I think maybe this is what Jesus was trying to get at in his Sermon on the Mount.  He said to turn the other cheek, and resolve issues quickly with your adversary.  He said if someone asks you to walk one mile, to walk two.  He said if you remember that you offended somebody, drop what you're doing and go make it right.  Basically, it boils down to not walking through life with an attitude of easy offense.  No matter which side you fall on in conflict, the offended or the offender, cultivate an attitude of love for others ... treat others the way you would like to be treated ... and don't be an asshole.


***Before I publish, I must add that I'm not talking here about deep offenses, or cases of abuse. Sometimes boundaries have to be set in order to protect yourself from people who are toxic to you.  Running back to an abuser in the name of 'forgiveness', or pushing hurt under the rug in order to bring a surface resolution are ways these teachings from the Sermon on the Mount have been used to perpetuate the oppression of victims.***

Friday, August 23, 2013

On Modesty :: {Everyone's doing it}

It didn't take me long to shed the habit of wearing a shirt.  I remember being two days into village living, our family's first solo foray of complete immersion in island culture, and my dad telling me, "You can take your shirt off, you know.  You don't have to wear it if you don't want to."

It was a suggestion, not a command, and honestly, it weirded  me out.  My mind immediately went to the two other men who lived on the island, native Papua New Guineans with kids of their own.  I was ashamed that they would see my 9 year old chest.  But as I observed my peers, and watched how the other girls on the island ran around in shorts or lava lavas, bare chested and free, one day I peeled my hot, sticky shirt off and was struck by the thrill of air blowing across my skin.  After a few hours, I forgot I'd even taken it off.  I didn't don another one until we left the island for civilization again two months later.

After our two month stint in the village was up, we packed all our things into bags and crates, and sat waiting for the outrigger to ferry us to the mainland, and to the rumbling diesel truck that would take us back to missionary base camp.  I suddenly became aware, after nearly eight weeks of not even thinking about it, that the top half of me was unclothed.  I remember the internal conflict as my brain struggled to shift from 'village' to 'town', and considered for a while if I would even put a shirt back on once we got around other Westerners again.  But seeing the outrigger approach our island caused something to click in my brain, and I began digging for a T-shirt in our bags.  

This started a dual standard of modesty for me.  In the village, I would go topless and sometimes even strip naked to swim, until I reached puberty.  In town, I would cover up.  In the village, I became used to all the women around me baring their breasts to the sun, and wrapping their lava lavas (cloth sarongs) tightly around their waists.  In town, nobody wore lava lavas in public because they were considered akin to nightgowns.  In the village I went barefoot, even over where the reef was made jagged and treacherous from the surf.  In town, I wore flip flops.  It was no big deal, switching from one standard to the other.

One evening, I wrapped a clean lava lava around my waist in preparation for church.  I was experimenting with a new style of wrapping it, with the cloth gathered until it hit right above my knees, and then tucked in jauntily at my waist to create a bright waterfall of fabric down the side.  I liked the shortness, because I had discovered that just bringing the hemline up two inches, going from hitting just below the knee to just above it, made it much easier to move around, and my lava lava didn't get tangled up in my legs.  Shirtless, shoeless, and prayer book in hand, I set off to evening service.  

I wasn't five yards from my front door when an older girl stopped me.

"Don't wear your lava lava like that!"  she scolded.  "It's indecent!  Especially at church!!!   Lower it down so it covers your knees."  Appropriately chastised, I lowered my hemline and she moved on, shaking her head at my indiscretion.  

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Lately, I've been in a lot of discussions online around the topic of modesty.  They're usually on religious (read:  Christian) blogs, since it seems that other people really don't care about the issue as much as we do.  I think that, of course, everyone's entitled to their own opinion about the issue.  And really, it has to come down to personal opinion.  After all, even Webster defines 'modesty' as "Observing the proprieties of the sex; not unwomanly in act or bearing; free from undue familiarity, indecency, or lewdness; decent in speech and demeanor".  Who (or what), then, gets to define this propriety?  I think that each culture sets its own general standard, which probably evolves through time based mainly on climate and social anthropology.  And then that general standard becomes narrowly defined by each individual person, or people group (family, religious group, clan, etc).  

Like I said, this is all very well and good.  The problem comes in, I think, when people start equating modesty with Godly righteousness.  They use the term, 'biblical modesty', and quote Scriptures to support their assertions that women should cover their bodies in a certain way.  

I have a big problem with this.  I think these people, although well-intentioned, are completely misreading those infamous 'modesty passages'.  What passages am I talking about here?  The favorite seems to be: 

Likewise, I want women to adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly garments, but rather by means of good works, as is proper for women making a claim to godliness.  1 Timothy 2: 9 - 10

I would add the sister verses 1 Peter 3:3 - 4, in which the apostle Peter addresses the same type of issues that Paul did in his letter to Timothy.  Peter says:

Your adornment must not be merely external - braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses; but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God.

What both apostles are talking about here is not hemlines, or how tightly clothing clings to a woman's form ... they're talking about good works, flowing from a heart submitted to God.  This supports what did Christ Himself taught (as it should - Scripture should agree with Scripture)  He didn't lay down lists of rules.  Instead, He reiterated time and again that it's not what's on the outside that matters to God - it's what's on the inside.  

"You think you're OK if you don't commit murder?"  Jesus asked.  "I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to the judgement."  

"You think you've fulfilled the requirements of the law by not committing adultery?  .... But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart."  

This is something I'm finding to be true time and again as I study the Scriptures.  Man looks at the outward appearance.  But the Lord looks at the heart. 

Going back to 'modesty'.  I find it interesting that the definition I quoted above from Webster is actually the secondary definition for the word.  The first definition is, "Restraining within due limits of propriety; not forward, bold, boastful, or presumptuous; rather retiring than pushing one's self forward; not obstructive".

Interesting, right?  Sounds like what both Peter and Paul were getting at when describing the behavior of a Godly woman.  

One last definition to throw out, and this is, I think, the most important of all.  It is the definition of the original Greek word, translated in our English bibles as 'modest', that Paul used when he wrote his letter to Timothy - 'aidos'.  It means, "a sense of shame or honour, modesty, bashfulness, reverence, regard for others, respect".  (If you're interested in where I found this, or in doing further study on your own, check out www.blueletterbible.org.  It's a wonderful resource for bible study.)

Peter and Paul weren't talking about women dressing their bodies in such a way as to cause the men around them to think lustful thoughts.  They were describing to new Christians, who were living during the infancy of Christianity, what defines a Godly woman.  Should it surprise anyone that the majority of women back then were much the same as the majority of women today?  We love our elaborate hair styles, and cute jewelry, and hard-to-get handbags, and status phones.  But the apostles said, in their letters to the churches, that Christian women weren't supposed to be about that.  We're supposed to be about good works, flowing out of submissive hearts that aren't proud, but are rather humble.  

Go ahead and read all the passages the purity advocates throw out to back up their positions on hemlines and bathing suits, and this time, read them with a new lens.  Read them with the lens of grace and truth that Christ brought to the Jews' strict interpretation of the Law, remembering that always, man may care about the outward appearance, but the Lord cares about the heart.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

A Love Worth Waiting For

It was my first semester at Texas Tech.  I was fresh out of high school, and intoxicated with the freedom of dorm living.

I found a church easily, because my roommate, someone I knew from our high school youth group back home, suggested the Baptist church with the big college service.  I loved it from the get go, with its edgy preacher who talked about sex from the pulpit, and the loud praise and worship band.  One of the girls who sang in the band lived a floor below me in my dorm.  We struck up a friendship over a couple of meals shared at a little corner table in the dining hall, and soon Tamera became my ride to church.  

One Sunday, as we met in the lobby and walked out under the stately arch that framed the dorm's heavy front doors, she said to me, "Hey, I'm going to pick up an RA from Sneed Hall.  He asked me at work the other day if I would give him a ride to church this Sunday."  Tamera worked in the office at another dorm, this one all male.  

Of course, I perked up.  Being 18 and new on campus, boys were never far from my mind.  And this one was an RA, implying that he was at least a year above me.  Oh yeah, baby.  

We pulled up in front of Sneed.  The three story dorm is set back a quarter of an acre from the road.  It has a long, winding pathway of red brick leading through grass and around elm trees towards its corniced entryway, which is twin to our, all female, dorm.  A young man was leaning against one of the square, stone columns that flanked the doors, and as we came to a stop at the curb, he pushed himself off and headed towards us across the green.

From my place riding shotgun, I straightened my back and gave my curls a preparatory scrunch.  He opened the passenger door, and as he slid onto the seat behind me, I turned slightly and cast a coquettish look over my shoulder at him.  This look, I knew from experience, was as effective as tossing a baited hook into a koi pond.  

Except that he ignored me.  I watched, a little insulted, as he settled his wide frame into the seat and placed his bible beside him.  His eyes were deep set and long lashed, and they were turned on my friend.  "Thanks for the ride," he said quietly.  

"Oh, you're welcome!  This is Danica, by the way.  She's from my dorm."

I settled my face again and gave him a smile.  He glanced at me. 

"Hey."

Um, that was it?  Really?  Whatever, I thought to myself.  There are plenty of fish in the sea.  Miffed, I turned myself around and focused on chatting with my friend for the rest of the ride.  

The quiet young man became part of our circle of friends, and soon he, Tamera and I would go to football games, or ride together to meet everyone at Chili's after church.  He didn't really say much, but was very earnest, and seemed to spend most of his time inside himself, watching the world from within an impenetrable psychic shell.  We became friends.  

When December rolled around, Tamera began to talk excitedly about the university's annual Carol of Lights.  Apparently, all the architecture would be outlined in red, yellow and orange Christmas lights (and in fact, I had already observed crews on scaffolding busy around campus doing just that), and then there would be a big ceremony, on a Friday night, with lots of singing, with the grand finale being all the lights turning on at once.  

"But I can't go with you to watch,"  she informed me over our chicken lo mein (it was Chinese night in the dining hall).  "I sing in the choir, so I'll be up on the platform.  But I told him that you were going, so he wouldn't have to go alone.  Can you just meet him here, and then you guys can walk over to where the Carol will be?"  'Him' being Mr. Psychic Shell.  

"Sure,"  I replied, and she let me know the exact time and place she had already discussed with him.  

On the night of the Carol of Lights, my friend Maren, Maren's boyfriend Chad, and I, waited in our dorm's lobby.  At the last minute, Maren remembered she needed something from her room.  "I'll just be a second!"  she called over her shoulder as she leaped back up the stairs, taking them two at a time.  Chad and I chatted until cold air wafting towards us made us aware that the outside door had been opened, and someone had come into the room.

"Oh, hey!"  His broad shoulders were hunched against the bite in the air, and I noticed that his nose was red at its tip.  He thrust his hands into his pockets and as his gaze swung from me, to Chad, and then back to me again, I had a sudden, intense desire to explain.  "Oh, uh, hey, this is Chad.  Have you met Chad?  Chad is Maren's ... boyfriend.  Chad, meet ... "

The guys shook hands as Maren appeared in the doorway.  "Ready?"  she said brightly.  

The Carol of Lights was absolutely magical.  Most memorable, was the rendition of O Holy Night, sung in soul shuddering tenor by one of the university's music professors.  After many Christmas carols, Feliz Navidad, and a procession by the school's male spirit squad led by Raider Red himself, a hush grew over the crowd.  When it had reached its deepest, there was a sudden fanfare, and on cue, thousands of tiny lights leaped into existence.  

(source)
It was as if we were suddenly transported from a college campus, into an exquisite fairy land.  Every artifice, moulding, window, door and tower was outlined in yellow, red and orange pin pricks.  The crowd drew a collective gasp.  I was speechless.  It was a moment I will remember for the rest of my life.

Maren and Chad had wandered away some time after the Mariachi band started playing, so the two of us made our way slowly through the dispersing crowd.  I wasn't ready to go home.

"There's supposed to be a parade after the ceremony.  You want to go watch it?"  The thousands of Christmas lights cast a dim glow that reached us even where we stood, and looking up at his face, I could see how the cut of his jaw brushed his upturned coat collar.  

"Sure.  I'd like that,"  I answered.  We meandered back across the commons, and found a spot on the curb right outside of his dorm, almost the same spot Tamera and I had parked that first Sunday morning I met him, months ago.  

My sweater, which had seemed almost too warm back in the dorm, was by now testifying to my inexperience at dressing for cold weather.  As we stood waiting for the parade to start, I shivered and pulled my arms around myself.  

He noticed right away.  "Are you cold?"

"Oh, I'm OK.  It's just, I didn't think to wear my jacket, and ..."

He was already shrugging out of his coat.  "Here, wear mine."

"Are you sure?  I'll really be OK, I just - "

"No, it's fine.  Look, I can run up to my room real quick and get another one for myself."  

"Oh, OK, well, thanks ... "  I took the coat and he turned toward the lit up dorm behind us.  As I slid my arms into the over sized sleeves, already toasty from his body heat, I watched him sprint up the walk towards Sneed Hall.  

This man wasn't walking, or even hurrying towards the building - he was running.  Sprinting.  Like he didn't want to miss a second.  Like the most important thing in the world was for him to get his coat, and then get back to me.  

And as I stood there on the dark curb, my hands tucked into the borrowed coat's sleeves, Christmas lights glittering in a fairy land around me, something warm sparked in my heart, and I decided that any man in that much of a hurry to get back to me, was worth waiting for. 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

A year and a half later, I married that man.  And last Sunday, we celebrated our 12th wedding anniversary.  Happy Anniversary, Scott.  You're the love of my life.