The 27 stages of Christian controversy on the internet

With huge thanks to Hannah Mudge, Raquelita and Stuartmwrites on twitter this evening…

1280px-Woman_wearing_red_flip_flops

  1. Obscure Christian blogger writes a post on why girls wearing flip flops are acting immodestly and causing their Christian brothers to stumble by flagrantly displaying toe cleavage.
  2. One of his regular readers agrees and posts a comment, the other disagrees and says so.
  3. Several weeks later blogger who no-one actually knows, but is considered semi famous (in the Christian world, which means 17 people subscribe to their updates) finds anti-flip-flop tirade while searching for other bloggers to exchange guest posts with (because that’s what you do to build your platform). He quotes said obscure blogger suggesting that he’s actually got a reasonable point which is worth considering.
  4. Secondary blogger thinks this will be a good opportunity to generate discussion around healthy boundaries and respecting one another. And also get lots of hits. Tweets the most outrageous parts of the post he’s quoting.
  5. A Christian social media gatekeeper sees the post. Doesn’t realise it’s a quote, comments at length and starts tweeting (with the hashtag #flipflopfallacy) to get their followers to comment as well.
  6. Traffic hungry Christian organisation blog site hosts a piece entitled: ‘This girl wore flip-flops to the six o’clock service. You will not believe what happened next.’
  7. Secondary blogger (who has been at work all day) finds hundreds of notifications, and posts clarification piece explaining clearly that it wasn’t his comments, that he’s sorry if it caused any offense, and then goes onto say – in his own words – why flip flops are probably, on balance and for the sake of unity, best avoided.
  8. An American Christian tweeter with a book deal picks up on the attempt at justification and tweets their outrage. He follows this up with a post written in 10 minutes explaining all the reasons he is simply outraged. Outraged he says.
  9. Christian collective posts an investigative piece on whether flip flops and foot fetishes are the latest front in the flirt to convert battleground: ‘How beautiful ARE the feet of him that brings good news?’ The speed this is posted with makes one suspicious they’ve been waiting for such a scenario and may even have engineered this one.
  10. Original poster points out he never said people couldn’t wear flip flops, but just to be careful because they could cause people to stumble.
  11. Unknown tweeter, thinking he was being witty, said that flip flops always caused him to stumble (when he wore them). He was immediately pointed in the direction of an online accountability group by well-meaning but slightly dim follower.
  12. Prominent theologian posts extended comment (3000 words) below both blogs as well as on their own site explaining the theological significant of displaying feet and why it is likely to be important across all times and cultures for women to cover their feet. Something about the dust of a rabbi’s sandals.
  13. Response to the blog saying that if you can’t put it simply you’re obviously wrong. Refuses on those grounds to read theologian’s post.
  14. Lots of sub tweets issued. Mostly to avoid the attention of Secondary blogger, American celebrity, Christian collective or verbose theologian. But THEY STILL HAVE SOMETHING TO SAY ABOUT IT.
  15. Think piece written with a call for unity between those who wear flip flops and those who don’t, and why for the sake of the gospel we should learn to live and worship together.
  16. This does it for secondary blogger. He cannot believe the tenacity of think piece author to be willing to set aside theological principles for a weak unity where no one stands for anything.
  17. Various mainstays of the Christian twitter world unfollow him. Some ‘farewell’-ing him, others passive aggressively doing so silently and a few brave souls hitting the block button.
  18. Tweeters on the #flipflopfallacy hashtag start demanding big names say something about this, and if they haven’t wonder aloud ‘why so-and-so are strangely silent on this’ and if they perhaps are secret foes of the flip flop.
  19. Initial post mysteriously vanishes, suggestions abound that he came under pressure to take it down otherwise he wouldn’t be invited to live tweet next month’s conference. Contrite apology appears on his site (and never posts again).
  20. High profile blogger (without a book deal but after one) writes an open letter calling for everyone to accept the apology in a spirit of grace.
  21. Previously silent famous speaker takes to twitter for the first time in 7 months to express disappointment original blogger was forced to take post down, adding that he thought it important that where necessary Christians were able to speak boldly but in love the truth that they hold dear.
  22. Christian clothing brand (which includes flip flops) issue a press statement which has taken 17 people 4 and a half days to write. They say they like flip flops but think modesty is also important so people should be free to buy them if they want but for the sake of peace will be discontinuing current line.
  23. Boycott of clothing brand ensues (boycotters refuse to buy anything if they’re stopped from buying what they want) with placards carrying slogan ‘my feet, my flip-flops’.
  24. Church press cover boycott. Andrew Brown writes column for the Guardian on the politics of flip-flop gate. Christian Today sends reporter to Soul Survivor to count how many people are wearing flip flops.
  25. Secondary blogger declares that he’s going to take a break from social media to concentrate on his family and church. Shortly after new account appears which seems suspiciously like him.
  26. Weather takes a turn for the worse and everyone stops wearing flip flops and stops caring if they’re immodest. Also, Rob Bell has a new book out which they either have to staunchly defend or snarkily mock his departure from the mainstream.
  27. No one can ever look at their shoe rack quite the same again.
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It’s a bubble wrap life: thoughts on modesty

Heart of Tuscany July 2013 054 ModestyLast night I ate at Nando’s. I went for a half chicken marinated in mango and lime dressing and it tasted good. I could have gone for it naked (or plain as they prefer to put it), but we all know that chicken tastes better when dressed. It made a good thing great. And it’s the same with people and clothes.

No it’s not.

I can’t do it. I can’t write an important piece about modesty, attraction, responsibility and liberty premised on an extremely tenuous food metaphor. I’m not going to suggest it’s like putting meat on the BBQ and then telling someone they can’t eat it, or anything about chocolate cake, sweets, or any other edible. I’m not going to say it’s like taking an alcoholic into a bar.

I’m not going to use any of those examples because they are about consumption. We eat food, we drink beer, we do not consume another person. And too often that is the problem when we talk about modesty and attraction: we do so from the mindset of a consumer. We think of other people as an it, as something that we either consumer or do not consume. And in doing so we deprive other people of agency. Continue reading

Beauty, attraction and modesty – a five act thought process

 I

A couple of weeks ago I went to Scotland and it was beautiful.

It is as easy and natural as that. The description of beauty was done without any further thought or consideration.

Last night I went out and met a beautiful girl.

Well actually I didn’t, I stayed in on my own and watched a couple of episodes of The Pacific. If I had used a real life scenario it would have suddenly become awkward. And that’s my point. When we talk about beauty and it relates to some feature of nature or a work of art it does not provoke the same array of inquiries as to its meaning or subtle squinting of the eye to work out where the statement in question originated.

If I say a girl is beautiful it is taken to mean something more than just a factual observation. In short you’d probably assume I was interested in her romantically. And I might be: because I’m a guy and have been known to be interested in that sort of way.

But it’s also far too reductionist and it takes a whole swathe of compliments out of use. While I am sometimes attracted to a particular girl because of her beauty, that does not mean I am attracted and seeking to romantically pursue any girl I consider to be beautiful. Continue reading

Freedom and consequence

What if you got everything you wanted? What if you were able to do all the things that you wanted to do? What if barriers were erased, consequences dismissed, costs discounted?

What would you do? What does it mean to be free?

I don’t think I want a world without consequences. I want what I do to have an effect, I want it to affect me, and to affect other people.

Trying to live in a world without barriers is a quest for the impossible. It is also a depressing endeavour. It suggests that we live in this atomised world that can only ever be a figment of our delusions. It would be a lonely life: I think it would be a life without much purpose. Because we live interlinked lives.

Andy Crouch writes in his book Culture Making about how the things that we do, the things that we create, change the horizon of the possible. By doing something we make certain things possible, but we also make other things near enough impossible. He uses the example of highways across the USA, they make travelling vast distances far easier, but they made travel by horse and carriage much harder.

Likewise, when I do something it has consequences, it changes things.

So when we try and live without consequences, when we try and make the most of this thing call freedom by throwing off restraints and doing whatever the heck pleases us in that moment we are caught in an infinite loop of impossibility. The things that we think will deliver the ultimate satisfaction in the end leaves us cold. They leave us in a lonely place because they have failed to deliver what they never had the power to provide.

Because with freedom comes consequences, and with consequences come responsibility. So we step back and we wait a moment before we embrace freedom for its own sake, or our own sake.

I write a lot for work, but when I write for work I write within certain parameters which restrict what I say and how I say it. In theory, when I write on this blog I can write about whatever I choose to, in whatever way I want. Except when I write something it has consequences. I could espouse views that would put my job on the line, even if I hid behind the ‘it’s a personal blog’ refrain. I could write in a way that would discredit my role or my employer, I could offend people I regularly work with. I have freedom to write what I like, but there are many things that would restrict my freedom were I to exercise said freedom in a careless way.

That doesn’t mean that I won’t write on controversial topics, or occasionally in a way that seeks to provoke a response. But what I choose to write about has consequences. When I write about dating and relationships, it changes the potentiality of any prospective relationships. I chose to say I disagree with Christian political parties, and maybe did so in an intemperate way, that has consequences.

Many of the best examples and stories come from those I am closest to, from my family and my friends. But if I were to write about these situations I would affect, and potentially damage my relationship with them. I had a couple of great examples I could have used in my previous post about women in church leadership, but they weren’t my stories, and it wasn’t my place to make them public.

A couple of weeks back I wrote about modesty with a few scattered thoughts about the challenges that guys, and girls, face in a world where sexuality is thrown around with abandon. And this question of freedom and responsibility is at the core of what we were talking about then. For girls who economise on the clothes they wear, there are consequences of that choice.

Here I’m making a slightly different point than I did in that previous post, and I’m very cautious about my choice of words. But guys will look at girls who are attractive and wearing clothes that make the most of that, and while this probably shouldn’t be the case, and it’s not necessarily the responsibility of the girl for what the guys look at, it is a consequence of that choice. So without excusing in any shape or form the leering looks or crude remarks guys might make, they are not detached from the choice that the girl has made in exercising her freedom to wear what she wants.

As I write this I’m conscious that I am exercising my freedom to write about a topic that I choose. And there may be consequences of that choice. Girls may think that I’m being a prude, encouraging them to cover up and spare a thought for the poor guys struggling with their beauty. While I’m content saying that there are consequences of the choice to wear certain clothes, I am far less confident to ascribe responsibility to the girl for the actions, because the way that guys respond is their responsibility, but that doesn’t mean it is unaffected by the choices that the girl has taken.

And the guys who look at the girls sunbathing on the grass? Well those looks have consequences too. It’s easy to think that a cheeky glance at the exposed skin on offer affects no one. But each time that you look, each time lust is stirred, each time you allow beauty to be read through a lens of sex you distort the way that you view women. And a counter intuitive consequence within the church is to adopt this mentality and to minimise an appreciation of beauty because we associate it with sex and with lust. So even in our mental thought processes about who we might be attracted to we view physical attraction as somehow wrong, and therefore look for more holy motives as ostensible reasons to justify our attraction.

Last night I read a fascinating first person piece in the Daily Mail (not a usual occurrence) from the former editor of Loaded magazine. After eight years dedicating his life to putting more bare breasts on pages than the competition he stepped away from that world, partly spurred by the birth of his son. He realised the consequences and ludicrous nature of what he had spent so much time and earned so much money doing.

When guys look at porn it doesn’t leave you unchanged. It affects the way that you look at women, it affects your expectation of relationships, it contorts and distorts the view of sex. And it makes you think you can have what you want without any of the baggage that comes with it. It promotes the idea of unattached satisfaction by pretending that is what it is providing. That it’s just you and your computer.

What a lie.

We live in an age with unprecedented freedom and an unenviable lack of accountability. I can do things if I want to and no one needs to know about them. But that doesn’t mean I should. And if I choose to use my freedom in ways that serve myself I shouldn’t be surprised to find that my freedom in fact becomes circumscribed. If my horizon of the possible suddenly becomes smaller.

What do you think? Share your thoughts, how do consequences affect how you act?

Summer skirts and lingering glances

The bout of warm weather which has so suddenly graced us with its presence brings to the fore a topic I’ve been mulling over for a little while.

How do we navigate the tetchy waters of modesty in what we, and what other people wear?

The other day someone at work walked in from enjoying the glorious rays at lunch and commented on what she had observed. A girl was laid on the grass in her bra. A guy sat on a bench nearby furtively got his camera out and took a photo of said girl.

The story was recounted with evident and justified shock which I and the other person party to this conversation shared.

But I pondered this a little further. The deliberate act of taking a photo makes this seem particularly egregious, but then I walk through the park and notice the low cut tops and the summer skirts. I see the girls in their bikinis working on their tan. And I wonder, as I try to restrain my gaze from lingering, how best to handle this particular visual challenge that comes with the beating sun.

And related to this, I am wrestling with whose responsibility it is. Is it the guy’s for the glances that they steal and the lust that it may represent? Or the girls for dressing inappropriately and acting the temptress?

The hyperbole in that last line was to deflect some of the inevitable rage it would produce.

Here’s my thinking on this, firstly, I am absolutely responsible for what I look at, why I look and the thoughts that it generates. And while I’m on the topic, men who use what a woman is wearing or the way they are acting as an excuse or as permission to act are completely abdicating their own responsibility. In the most extreme cases men who consider a woman to be asking for it if they are dressed in a certain way are wrong in the most definite and vilest sense.

But, I don’t think that absolves women of responsibility either. This is where it gets tricky. While guys are responsible for their response, I think women need to be aware of the impact of what they are wearing (or not wearing) on guys who are around them.

Modesty doesn’t need to be viewed as a dirty word, as a sort of Victorian notion of propriety which is now outdated. Perhaps we should view it as how we interact in a way that best serves everyone involved. It might also help to think about how we consider modesty in other arenas.

If someone is modest about their skills in a particular area, they are not denying that they have these skills, instead it’s just they are not going out of their way to flaunt them. Modesty in dress is not about denying or neutralising beauty, it is about placing it in its proper context and realising that exhibitions of beauty can be misused in the same way any other ability, talent or attribute can.

In practice what does this mean? For guys in the park when it’s hot accept that it’s tough. There are attractive girls not wearing very much. How we respond around people we know will depend on who it is and the nature of a our relationship. If you’re a girl and with a guy you know likes you and this isn’t how you feel, spare a thought for him.

Let me try and answer one challenge to all this: the beach problem. It goes something like this: girls wear bikinis on the beach so what’s wrong with sunbathing in a bra in the park?

I think it’s got to do with patterns of association and an understanding of normal behaviour. When you’re on the beach people are wearing less clothes so it is normal, when you see someone in a bikini in the park it comes across as more exceptional, it is not what you would expect and I think in some neuro-psychological way that I wouldn’t understand this makes it more exciting.

Take this a step further, bikinis are designed to be worn on their own, whereas bras are (usually) worn under something else. Therefore, in some very real way, a girl wearing a bra in a park is more likely to draw attention, and for guys, be a source of temptation where a girl in a bikini on the beach might not.

Is this fair? Maybe not, but in each and every situation there will be many different factors at play so that what is worn in one context is reasonable, but in another might be unhelpful and even unkind. I’m not making any recommendations about what girls should wear or where guys should avoid in the scorching sun, that would be dangerous territory. And I’ve ventured far enough already.

What advice would you give to guys struggling with skimpy skirts in the summer sun? And would you tell a girl to cover up if you found what she was wearing unhelpful?