Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Flirting, Dating, Modesty, and Sexual Assault

A flurry of interesting conversations on modesty have made the rounds recently. There seems to be an attitude that if you dress provocatively, you invite sexual advances. There is a counterargument that the way we teach women to dress modestly FOR THE PURPOSE of dissuading men to approach them inappropriately teaches women that they are on some level objects for the taking.

I'm think there is merit to both sides. Because on the one hand, it is true. If you dress in a way that, compared with the culture around you, is immodest, you will be the focus of more sexual advances. It is just as true that those men who take a woman's appearance as an open invitation are complete and utter cads.

I am a woman who has lived with a kernel of fear most of her life. NOT that I'd be raped (though that is part of it) but that I'd lead a man on, inadvertently "invite" him to take advantage of me in ANY way by the way I dress, talk, or act. No woman is completely safe from men. I believe that. I also believe that not all men are the source of danger, though I don't really know how to tell the difference.

This makes it very hard to flirt, to show I'm interested in a guy.

Which, ironically, makes me a prime target for the sort of man who has always been attracted to me: the sort that is looking for prey, not an equal partner. Because from his perspective, HE is intrigued by the hoops he has to jump through to get me. HE is willing to do whatever it takes to get his mark, even slog through my reticence. (For those of you who have seen Bachelorette, Bentley is a common type of this sort of man.)

I think that the best way to deal with both the realities and the ideal is to stop telling women to dress to help control men's thoughts, and teach them to dress modestly because in the minds of (at best) immature men, they are seen on at least one level as objects and they should want to do everything they can to command respect.

I understand that, our mortal state being what it is, otherwise righteous men might have an errant thought at times because they are attracted to a woman. But this happens regardless of dress, to my understanding. It could be anything, a flash of throat, a toss of hair, even the scent of shampoo.

So rather than telling women to stop doing what triggers those thoughts (because that would be impossible anyways,) start telling men AND women that HAVING those thoughts is natural, not evil. However, natural doesn't mean good. As mature adults, they have the ability to develop complete control over whether or not they'll turn the passing thought into action. They most certainly have the ability to control how they see the woman who excites their hormonal interest.

Just because you men have the thoughts, doesn't mean we women did anything to encourage it. And just because you men are attracted to us, doesn't mean we are attracted to you. And even if we are attracted to you, that doesn't mean you have a right to us and our bodies, EVEN IF WE ARE MARRIED TO YOU.

Monday, June 13, 2011

"I Have to Disagree . . . Just a Little"

I was sitting in Relief Society listening to a lesson about obedience and experiencing one of my days where I raise my hand more than I should. Most of the lesson was focused on how we can receive blessings for being obedient. But the more I thought about that, the more I realized that we keep trying to fit obedience into an equation. Obedience + Sacrifice = Blessings.

And there is some doctrinal basis for that line of thought. In fact, one might argue that the entirety of scripture demonstrates that when we obey, we are blessed.

But I think there is another level to that, beyond being blessed for obedience, that comes as we truly learn to love the Lord. We obey not because we are blessed, but because we love Him and trust Him. The blessings that we get are not part of an equation, but are much more complicated and less guaranteed. There is some evidence of this in scripture, Nephi slaying Laban, Paul preaching the gospel, even Mormon and Moroni guarding the plates. Sure, we can point to how the Lord blessed them, but the bulk of their personal blessings came as a result of being obedient, not as a result of the actions they took by being obedient. There was no expected personal blessing that one could point to and say "because you did this, you got this." In fact, most of the blessings in such cases weren't for them, but for others. They, themselves, had sorrow, death, and loneliness as their reward for obedience.

I think that this is eventually an important concept to understand, and felt moved to share my perspective with the class by referring obliquely to a personal commandment I received which, like Nephi's, went against the general commandments of God, and which had little to no personal benefit. (I had to hasten to add that I hadn't killed anyone!)

I think that suggesting that not all obedience results in a causation blessing made several people uncomfortable, because we would all like to believe that we can somehow control what blessings we receive. One woman raised her hand and said that she disagreed with me "a little," that ALL obedience comes with attached blessings.

She disagreed with me more than a little, but she was not willing to say it. Another woman chimed in and said we were both right, trying her best to make peace. Embarrassed, I thought about trying to clarify my point, but got the feeling that those who needed to hear what I said, if any, had heard it. I felt distinctly that not all in the room would benefit from understanding more what I was saying. So I let it lie there and turned hideously red (curse that pale Scandinavian skin).

The reason I'm sharing this here is because I think that as we gain knowledge by experience, as we gain a greater appreciation for the Savior and His love, as we come to develop a desire to serve those around us, we will find ourselves mimicking His teaching style more and more. Opening our mouths is important, when moved upon by the Spirit, but sometimes shutting our mouths is appropriate, too.

And it is okay to disagree more than just "a little."

The gospel is like a stretchy shirt. It is one size fits all, but that doesn't mean it looks the same on everyone.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Can't I Learn Humility Some Other Way?

The other day, I caught myself beginning to obsess about some things that someone said about me. Whenever I am criticized, my habit at first is to panic. Could it be true? Could I really be that incompetent/ petty/ jealous/ angry/ whatever? Is there some major flaw in my character I'm not seeing that I need to fix RIGHT AWAY OR I WON'T BE LOVED?!?

One of my besetting sins is to continually desire perfection. Lest ye think that this is some pseudo-sin, let me assure you it is not. It has affected my relationships with people, myself, and even God. Most of my sorrow in life has been brought about because I was trying so hard to be good and failed. Again and again and again.*

My life-scripture, the one that seems to come up over and over again, is the Lord's words to Moroni. Moroni was looking at the testimony he had written and comparing it to the power the Lord had granted him in speaking. (I wonder what I wouldn't give to actually hear the words of those ancient prophets. If their written words are weak, then imagine the power of God present in their speech!)

Like Moroni, I see unflattering contrast between what I desire and what actually happens. I feel the power of God move in me, but I look at what I do and it is so weak in comparison to what I WANT to be doing. I long for human spiritual connection the way Moroni longed to Spiritually connect, and believe deep down that I have to be perfect to get it.

The Lord says to Moroni, "I give unto men weakness that they may be humble."

I hate weakness. I hate forgiving and then finding myself having to forgive again. I hate feeling like I don't know the rules to the game of life, and if only I knew them I could do them and everyone would love me. I hate feeling occasionally angry, tired, cranky, depressed or jealous when underneath it I have less than no desire to be any of those things, EVER.

And yet, I'm coming to understand that I will never be strong, and that is a good thing. So long as I use my weakness to look at myself and realize that I am not God, that weakness can change me for the better. If I come to accept that weakness, to ignore it, or worse to revel in it, I remain caught in pride and unable to serve the Lord.

So even though I see my weakness and ache to be rid of it, I am trying my best to forgive myself, to not obsess over all the things I do wrong, but to focus on what I'm doing right RIGHT NOW. I don't think it is coincidence that we later hear from Moroni one of the most powerful discourses on charity extant.

And maybe if I'm more humble, I'll be receptive when the Lord uses my weaknesses to further His purposes.

*As a side note, I I read a recent paper that discusses homosexuality and realized how many of those traits I shared. It got me thinking about ways of thinking in general (metathinking!) and how many of the principles described in that therapy could help with other issues.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Apostasy and the Commandment to Forgive, Part 1

There has been recent discussion about disciplinary councils which I have been wondering about. In reading my Sunday School lesson, I recently stumbled upon Matthew 18, when the disciples of Jesus asked Him who was greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Christ uses a child to visually express the type of humility we ironically need to cultivate to be great in His eyes. We often use this chapter to decry child abusers. Yet this chapter really isn't talking about child abuse at all.

When Jesus speaks of the "little child" He is talking about a person who has been converted and humbled themselves.

So when we receive those who have humbled themselves in Christ's service, we receive Him. And if we offend a humble follower of Christ, it is better for us to be dead.

And then comes a powerful insight into the nature of our lives. Christ says, "it must needs be that offenses come; but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh!" It is necessary that, as we cast off pride and humble ourselves in service to Christ, we experience "offenses". But that does not excuse those who commit these offenses.

Mosiah 26 records the short-term aftermath of King Benjamin's powerful testimony and exhortation to his people. After his speech, many of those who were too young to feel the power of the truth of what he said did not believe in Christ, and therefore did not understand the gospel teachings nor align themselves with the Church.

At first they were few, but because of infighting in the Church (kind of like a lot of the infighting that is displayed online) they grew more numerous. And then, once they left the Church, they flattered church members—not to get them to leave the church—but to cause them to sin. These church members sinned to the point that they had to be brought up for "admonishment" by the Church.

Sound familiar?

Ultimately, the one they were brought before was Alma. This is important because Alma not only had been a great sinner in his past and repented, but he seemingly still was very careful not to commit sin again. He did not feel qualified to judge the people of the Church, and the King, Mosiah, refused to judge them according to the laws of the land.

It was tricky for Alma because on the one hand, those who were in the Church and not living by its teachings were damaging themselves and others. But on the other hand, simply wielding the fist of justice could possibly serve to offend more people and cause greater problems.

Matthew 18 and Mosiah 26 both deal with damaging relationships. Jesus in Matthew 18 addresses what to do if, as a humble follower of Christ, your own personal relationships are causing "offenses," or in other words, causing you to sin. Mosiah 26 reveals to us how the Church is to deal with those causing others to sin.

These were enlightening chapters for me because I still sometimes labor under the pain of the decision I made to divorce my ex-husband. When I was married, I thought that if I did all the things they tell us to do, put the spouse first, put the marriage first, I could (singlehandedly!) save my marriage. I was determined that Satan wouldn't have my marriage or my husband.

Oh, how prideful I was!

In my next post, I will discuss what I have learned about the Spirit's personal guidance for me, and the guidance that Jesus gave His disciples and Alma. When should apostasy be forgiven, and when should the one turning away (whether it be from marriage or a religion) be cut off?

And what are the consequences for doing either?

Apostasy and the Commandment to Forgive, Part 2

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