From the inbox, a question re: Discussing Modesty from a friend who said he’d be willing to see it answered on the blog. Here’s the original question:
Being of a similar mindset on Faith and parenting (and having the common Family Honor reference point between us), I have a question for you (and your husband)? I have a Catholic friend who is a marginally-involved Catholic who has a daughter who is VERY into dance. She’s 13, tours the country in various dance competitions, and all this seems to be very immodest in dress and in moves. (Some of the positions in which they have her posed for Facebook pictures make me absolutely cringe.)
That being said, the mom (and the grandma – who I know even better than the mom – a very involved Catholic, actually), are extremely proud of her in all this dance activity, and seem to have no issue with the questionable nature of this style of dance.
My question to you (and your husband) is – how would YOU handle this with a friend? She’s constantly tagging me on pictures of her daughter to get me to “like” the pix (for competitions and such), and I feel bad not doing so, but there’s no way I could support this form of expression. I’m tempted to write her (and the grandma) a Theology of the Body based email, but am concerned about the reaction.
I related the conversation to the spouse, and his answer was simple. I paraphrase:
I’d send the grandmother a message telling her that her granddaughter is beautiful, and clearly a very skilled dancer, but as a red-blooded male, these photos are a near occasion of sin for me.
He observed this would solve the immediate problem and get the grandmother’s train of thought onto the right track.
You can tell by that answer which of us has the “succinct” and “more comfortable with direct confrontation” answering skills.
I don’t have that. I’m blaming it on culture. Or something. My short answer to “What would you do?” is, “I’d probably bungle it terribly, thanks for asking.”
Thinking through the situation, there are several major themes on which I have thoughts:
1. There’s a difference between a “disciple” and everyone else. A disciple is a student, but something more than that. A Christian disciple is someone who’s whole life is given over to the quest of trying to be the best Christian he can possibly be. When someone’s on that quest, they’ll eagerly seek out information and examples of how to more thoroughly live the Christian life.
If they aren’t on that quest, they just aren’t. You can evangelize. You can appeal to whatever values are consistent with their current ambitions. But it’s important to understand that it’s quite likely they simply don’t care. Modesty is not on their agenda.
2. Statistically speaking, it’s highly unlikely your friend has any interest in chastity, of which modesty is the servant. Nobody likes it to be said too plainly, but chances are your friend and daughter have no plan to save sex for marriage. They will be very upset if you say this out loud. But it would be most unusual for them to seriously hold chastity as a longterm goal. The wider American culture simply isn’t there.
3. We all have our blind spots. Even if they do indeed wish to be wholehearted, devoted Christians, or have some other reason for embracing chastity, it is likely they are unable to see how particular clothing or dance styles have anything to do with this. They are immersed in a culture that considers all this to be perfectly normal.
Knowing themselves to have only pure intentions, having experienced the good that comes with the discipline and athleticism of studying dance, and no doubt having made many good friends in the dance world among people who are kind, caring, and hard-working, they are likely in a position where they simply cannot see that anything could be wrong with what they are doing. They are capable of seeing the immense good associated with the daughter’s achievements, and lack any perspective that could hint there might be a problem with some aspect of it.
On the other hand, maybe they are themselves uneasy about the situation but can see no way around it. That happens, too.
Therefore, you have your work cut out for you.
What can you do?
Concerning the immediate question of “Liking” a Facebook status: Cheerfully hit the “Like” button on anything that you can, in good conscience, like. There must be many things this family posts that are indeed wonderful, so show your support for them there. There’s no law that you have to hit the “Like” button on everything that is tagged to you. People who think you have to “like” everything need some insensitivity training, and you can help them with that.
–> In the unlikely event that your friend contacted you directly and asked, “How come you only like my recipe-sharing statuses, and never the pictures of my scantily-clad granddaughter provocatively posed?” You can honestly reply, “You must understand that given my position as a ________________ [devout Catholic / chastity educator / crazy person / man who wishes to remain married] that’s not actually something I can do. But I love your family dearly, and am very proud of the hard work your granddaughter has put into her efforts at dance. Also, the wasabi-macaroni casserole was wonderful!”
She might throw a temper-tantrum and never speak to you again, or might not. When someone pins you in a corner and demands you answer, they run the risk that they won’t like your answer.
Concerning evangelization: Just keep at it. This is, as far as I can see, the underlying issue. Very honestly: Dance is more than just dance. It’s, well, soulful. There’s every reason to think that daughter, mother, and grandmother are all looking for something that resonates, something eternal, something real, that fulfills a longing they aren’t even fully aware that they’ve got.
Tip: Consider the chaste eroticism that is the best of Christian art. Having been the person who once said, “Christianity doesn’t satisfy because it is missing ____________,” I assure you, the answer is to demonstrate that no, _________ is not missing at all.
Concerning modesty and chastity: Be that friend in the room. Continue to do what you do, which is to have a public presence as this guy who’s serious about chastity. There are several reasons that you can be hopeful this will help:
- People learn mostly by immersion. Slowly over time, simply by being constantly exposed to an idea, a reality, people begin to learn it.
- When they have a question, they can come to you. And then you can answer it.
- If you go ahead and put your nuttiness out there for everyone to see, no one can say they’re shocked when you react accordingly.
So don’t hesitate to be the guy with the weird status updates that consist of some inordinate proportion of Lifeteen articles on the virtues of not walking around in a state of undress. Don’t bump them to anyone, just stick them there. You in all your freakish glory can warn the world, “Here’s a guy who just doesn’t want to know exactly what your abdomen looks like.”
And then people will catch on that they can live and let live. That you are a person who both dislikes knowing too much about other people’s anatomy and you don’t foam at the mouth or scratch faces at the parish potluck. It eventually becomes undeniable that a person like yourself can thoroughly love your friends without having to approve of every single thing they do.
Which is to say, you love your neighbor as yourself — you being a guy who does things you don’t approve of, too.
And then there’s the Church. One of the reasons that Christians have such a difficult time getting dressed and staying dressed is that we’ve pretty much thrown out all serious discussion of modesty over the past fifteen years. The general consensus — with which I disagree — is that we mustn’t ever do anything that might scare people away, even if it means we know far too much about the torsos of even those who serve on the altar.
Meanwhile, in over-reaction to the Let Them Wear Burkas school of moral theology, there’s a line of thinking that says, “Well, if everyone were pure, we wouldn’t need clothes. So dress for the weather, wear bug spray if necessary, and let the lesser among us go to confession if they can’t hack all the purity we’re putting on display.”
Together these two lines of thinking have created a culture of anti-modesty within the evangelical Christian and Catholic worlds.
But that doesn’t mean everyone’s wearing the lingerie. You might consider, if you have the means to do so and can gather up a small group of interested participants, putting together a workshop or disicpleship group for parents and teens that’s centered around the topic of modesty and purity. Your pastor might be supportive, or you can do it on your own with other like-minded friends.
Although I have no particular affiliation with LC or RC, my family has agreed that the Pure Fashion guidelines are our house tie-breaker if there are disagreements about clothing choices. Their program or another like it might give you ideas for activities of interest in your area. Family Honor might provide some inspiration for program possibilities as well.
I think you will find that if you can put together a compelling option in favor of modesty, more and more families will be drawn towards it over time. And eventually your grandmother-friend will nudge her granddaughter to come and see.
Artwork: Léon Bazille Perrault [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons