(Fragments of) The New Normal

“What do people mean when they say, ‘I am not afraid of God because I know He is good’? Have they never even been to a dentist?” – C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

Maybe it’s too soon to write this post. Maybe there’s never a right time, like there’s never a right time to die. Where, O Death, is your sting? Here. Now. Not eternally, but now.

How do you meet grief? Some people slam the door in its face, and some people smother it in their arms as a type of memory worth holding fast. No one exactly welcomes it. I wrote Mom’s obit and held people close and took two weeks off work–one for funeral events and travel, and one for Christmas that followed it. I have done things that affirm the very clear reality of my mother’s absence from the body, and even so I catch myself waiting for her to come down for dinner.

I haven’t had trouble sleeping, but the dreams did suck for a couple weeks. I know some people welcome their loved ones in dreams as a bit of remembrance or reprieve, but I couldn’t. The woman in my dreams kept denying the reality I and my family live in, and was nothing but an imposter. As Lewis wrote, this phantom was merely a fragment of my own imagination–some fashioning of my mom in my own image, not who she really was. It was an image perverted, and some of the dreams woke me up with their twisted reality.  I’m glad the dreams have ebbed, as I found no comfort in them.

On the other hand, we all find ourselves drawn to her images in the photo albums. She was the family photographer, but thankfully she never shied away from having her picture taken when her hair wasn’t perfect or she looked tired or her body was recovering (hello, seven kids). I’m so glad she didn’t. It’s hard to comprehend how someone so absolutely alive in the photos could be dead now. Still, it’s good to remember her as she was–cautious, but mischievous and full of life in the everyday circumstances. Some days the slideshow is easier to watch than others.

We’ve had genuinely good days, and good moments. Parts of Christmas Day were better than I could have imagined, and seeing the cemetery the day after we buried her was healing and calming and beautiful in its own way (though I hadn’t wanted to go). I hadn’t realized that one can be surprised by the good moments as well as the bad.

“Her absence is like the sky, spread over everything.”

I understand now why people call death a “loss.” Not just something has been taken away and gone on a trip, but something is actively missing. On the easy days, it’s a bit like tasting tomato soup and finding someone left out the tomato flavor. Or, in keener moments, realizing your leg has been cut off and you’ll never run the same way again (thanks for the image, Jack). When the twins turned 18, just a few days after Christmas/Mom’s birthday, her absence was its own presence. When I found the birthday card I had optimistically bought for her weeks in advance, I found myself contemplating how she wouldn’t ramble a bit after she answered some question over the phone and update me on daily life at their house. I’m thankful her birthday and Christmas are the same day, so we don’t relive some things twice.

I feel a slight hesitation, a nervousness, when I’m away from loved ones. The nervousness grows much larger when someone runs later than they tell me. There’s a small, not at all irrational bit in me that knows they may never come back. Losing someone in three months, almost to the day, is almost instantaneous relative to a normal lifespan, and you realize how quickly it can happen. Perhaps, in this sense, I have truly “grown up,” for I have intimately realized that neither I nor anyone I love is invincible.

Day-to-day is easier at my own house than at my parents’ (it is still their house, because they built it together) since the change isn’t so obvious in that place. My own life was at least a little separated from hers, while my dad and younger siblings have no such refuge. You realize how many little habits and little jokes your parents had once one of them is no longer there to fulfill the routines. I’m thankful Dad is a talker, not a bottle-upper, though it means the moments are always fraught with something. I’ve been encouraged to keep my own life, but it’s clear how much we all need to be together constantly. It’s exhausting, like every other aspect of grief. “No one told me that grief feels so very like” … exhaustion.

2013, you were truly the very best of times and the very worst of times. I look forward to getting outside again, hiking and camping and doing things Mom wasn’t so apt to do. I know the exercise will at least make us sleep well, and I look forward to being surprised by joy via blue skies, though I expect to find the “still point of the turning world” all over the place. Slowly, slowly.

“Aren’t all these notes the senseless writings of a man who won’t accept the fact that there is nothing we can do with suffering except to suffer it?”


Advent: Or, Longing in Hope

I intended to write about Advent today. However, some other folks beat me to it with wonderful words and frank exposition. So instead, I’ll link to their pieces, knowing that my heart echoes theirs in this season of twice waiting–once with Israel, once with longing hope that He will finish making all things new. Enjoy.

Advent, a venir at Wine & Marble

When It’s Hard to Believe in Miracles at Christmas at A Holy Experience

In which Advent is for the ones who know longing by Sarah Bessey

Seasons Change

The leaves turned colors and fell outside Mom’s window over the last couple months as we’ve watched with her. Autumn is profoundly mysterious and awkward–the shining forth of color as living things wither and draw inward and pass away. Beauty and imminent death, calmness before months of lack. I’ve put pen to paper many times in this season, and I choose to believe God is drawing out something worthy of wonder even as I stare at the looming hole in reality.

In the past two months, our existence as a family has been nothing short of charmed. This is especially true of the last week and a half, when Mom came back from the brink and we all hung around her and the house while she flurried orders, wisdom, and reminisces from the hospital bed. The ICU stint was the warning bell, and propelled everyone–well, I hopefully think so–to spend the one-on-one time they’d avoided or didn’t realize they needed. Mom has responded with a twinkle in her eye even though we know she’s low on fuel given her appetite. She’s smiled and buoyed us up and cracked jokes when Dad accidentally refers to lowering the hospital bed as “putting her down,” and acts like a 5 on the pain scale is easy peasy lemon squeezy. Even when the pain creeps higher than that, she refrains from the swear streams I know would be leaving my mouth. She says she doesn’t want to taint her witness as her condition gets harder to bear, as if the last couple months have been cake. I know she’s fighting to believe truth, like we all are. But sometimes, we’re surprised. Last week gave me more peace and joy than I ever believed could coexist right now.

That said, I’m awfully tired of the ache in the back of my throat, and of carting around mascara and makeup removing wipes. We vacillate so fast. Last night I was telling a story that made me laugh so hard I could barely finish it, and twenty minutes later the lump was back as the pain jumped to a 9 before Dad got it back down with the serious stuff. Sometimes, a baby comes to visit and Mom coos and laughs and it seems like we might have weeks. Three hours later, there’s a visceral wish to make it stop, and the brink seems close and merciful.

Last week forced me to articulate what I believe about miracles, and that kind of sucked and was kind of a relief at the same time. Mom’s near-miraculous bounce back after the ICU and the couple truly stellar days in the middle of the week tempted me to wonder if God was doing something special. You start hoping despite your best efforts to face reality, because how could she look so good, and why on earth is her handwriting less shaky today? And then the one bad day creeps into the next several, and you have to acknowledge that this shit is real. Again. It’s safer not to believe in miracles than dare to hope and believe while seeing nature take its course and divine intervention stay away. But really? We did get a minor miracle. Maybe not the full, complete miracle, but the chance to say what we meant was a chance we very nearly lost.

Are God’s hands tied? I fully believe He doesn’t enjoy watching us suffer, as I’ve articulated before, but I recognize that my reasoning for why He doesn’t intervene was so, so limited in scope. I took into account the rest of the world; I should’ve taken into account the universe itself, the powers invisible that we so quickly forget because we only have five senses. But Dad has reminded us that we live caught between two warring factions, even though the end result is a sure thing. Are we collateral damage in the fight? Not exactly. But he pointed to 1 Corinthians 15:24-26, and drew out the early verses. Nothing will separate us from the love of God–but damn if those forces won’t try, and death is still their chemical weapon, used with abandon on all that lives. There’s much more than the turn of the earth going on, and perhaps some things simply must be in the grand scheme. The verses say that Christ MUST reign until he has subdued all his enemies, and we know the kings of earth are no match for him. Rather, we are not forgotten though the universe rages on.

Maybe something bigger is at work–I know I’m too close to the center to tell, but I choose to believe when people I barely remember call and say that Mom’s story is being shared in places she’s never been. I see hints of this in the overwhelming number of meals people have brought my family, and the many texts and notes people close to me have sent (you will never know how much those are worth to me!).

I also pray that this outpouring of love and my own sadness wakes me up to love and compassion. It’s kind of strange–when I shared with a few friends that Mom had been diagnosed, they shared their own hurts back with me in ways I hadn’t known before. And I was so humbled, and also a little ashamed at how little I recognized or noticed their wounds before. Sorrow like this imparts a special kind of credibility, both to comfort and to speak truth, and I have listened most closely to people for whom intimate grief is familiar. I wouldn’t wish membership into the sorority of suffering on anyone, but these are the people, the women, who have a credibility to comfort in ways others don’t. And that’s precious and beautiful in its own way.

Sometimes, the truth is as simple as an acknowledgment that damn, this HURTS and this is REAL and this is NOW. I realize now how quickly I’ve passed by others because their grief made me uncomfortable, and I wish I could turn back the clock on those moments. On the other hand, could I have said anything of value back then? Likely not, but I know now that hugs and acknowledgement are always accepted. I want to see people as I have been seen. Not because it makes my experience “worth it,” but so this means of grace may be extended to others as it has been to me.

Speaking of grace, my old co-worker’s explanation of “grace for today” is constantly on my mind. His wife was diagnosed with advanced stage breast cancer when their youngest was still a toddler, and she continues her struggle today. But in the early stages, he said something that’s really stuck with me, about God’s mercies being new every morning. “That means we only have the grace for today, not for tomorrow–tomorrow’s mercy hasn’t arrived yet. We receive the grace for today only, and wait in faith that tomorrow’s will be new and waiting for us when we need it.” They chose “Grace Sufficient” as a blog title, and I think I glimpse now what they meant.

Grace for today, and bright hope for tomorrow
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside
Great is Thy Faithfulness

Why Not Give Up?

Mom recently asked me why it’s important to keep going during this season, why any of it (and all that “it” encompasses) matters now. Why shouldn’t we just resign ourselves to inevitabilities and just… stop. Why continue to live life actively instead of curling up and wallowing? The question was half rhetorical, half challenge. I’d only half articulated an answer to myself before she asked, and I promised a more thorough explanation. Well, here’s my attempt.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

I’ve long since stopped believing in answers. Especially easy ones.

Instead, when I ask myself what keeps me going during this strange season of simultaneously having and losing, I hang my hat on certain truths, and those aren’t the same thing as answers. They are not trite, and frankly some may not quite be hermeneutically acceptable or accurate. But they are truths nonetheless. And, most days, they are enough to convince me that that day matters.

I remember back a decade and quite some change ago when I first encountered G.K. Chesterton, who introduced into the fatalism of my hyperCalvinist mind the possibility of mystery and beauty. In Orthodoxy, I found a new way of seeing in the philosophy of fairyland, of “imagining for one mad moment that the grass is really green.” The world could be so much less–and so much different–than what it is, and yet there’s a Creator who somehow made it just so. Seeing the beauty in the everyday, in the ordinary, broadens the scope of my imagination, and lets me believe that there is more beauty than I have yet encountered. As Chesterton expressed it,

“But nearly all of the people I have ever met in this western society in which I live would agree to the general proposition that we need this life of practical romance; the combination of something that is strange with something that is secure.”

Something secure–orthodoxy–paired with the strange–the remarkable fact of creation. That worldview is a starting point for hope. I believe wholeheartedly that this world is full of things far greater than I can understand because there’s a great Magician who created it with powers far beyond my little scope. So that’s my first truth: that faith invites me to see beauty and mystery in the everyday.

Independent of and complementing that, I have come to accept that this world-gone-whack as not the Magician’s fault. Cancer? Fallen world issue. Loss? Common, but not natural. Lack of miracle? Well, what kind of a world would it be if I expected the Clockmaker to fix everything on my own timetable when he’s managing something much bigger? I admit to bordering on deism sometimes, so my Clockmaker naming isn’t incidental. But that’s the trick, isn’t it–believing in a God who can intervene yet often does not. I make peace with this because decay isn’t his “fault,” but a natural consequence to abide. So when something miraculous does happen–it’s the fairytale wonder that emerges, not a foregone fact taken for granted.

Do I believe God doesn’t intervene because somehow loss is “good” for me? Insert-every-four-letter-word, NO. I have yet to have the verse/passage pointed out to me that says our suffering per se is good. Rather, I choose to believe that God will take the broken and redeem it, not merely leave me with the pieces. I believe that he makes beauty from ashes, not that he stokes the fires consuming what I love. That’s cause for hope. Hope that redemption means better. 

Maybe I could say that I choose to believe that the good in this life is from God’s hand, and the evil/death that happens is part of sin’s consequence on the world, the laws of atrophy at work. Do I believe that God is sovereign? Yes. Do I believe that God sends a violent hurricane on an unsuspecting New Orleans to chastise us for specific sins, some punishment that doesn’t fit the crime? No no, I don’t. I have yet to believe that all hardship is discipline (sidenote: Hebrews 12 is talking about the struggle against sin and the discipline that comes with that, how is that descriptive of all suffering? Even Jesus said the son’s blindness was not for sin of his parents or his own). Sometimes, the worst happens simply because the world and our bodies are broken.

Frankly, when I hear someone talk about the “frowning providence of God,” I think that person is overestimating our own importance. Yes, God cares for the sparrow, but he does not tailor the wind to each sparrow, nor bend the laws of nature to save us heartache; a hurricane that gives one person a fresh beginning will leave another reeling for years. When were we ever promised a tailor-made path through this world? We are not promised a unique world, but a meaningful life and redeemed experiences despite a world held in bondage to sin.

Accepting loss becomes easier with this perspective, that God doesn’t owe me a customized trip through life. It also makes the hope and comfort offered in surviving the experience much more precious. And finally, this understanding frees me to believe that rain falls on the just and the unjust–and that even in a drought, I believe it will fall again. I want to be ready to plant my seeds when the rain falls, so I better keep pushing through now.

Well, that was a bit of a tangent. What else? Well, I see nothing in Bible or in my heroes that encourages me to quit. Paul encouraged us to run the race set before us, not quit halfway. And if he can keep going, maybe I can too, sustained by grace. Nowhere do I find my God saying, “Well done, good and faithful quitter.” Do we reshift? Reorient? Radically evaluate our priorities and rail against a fallen world? Absolutely, but to quit would be to admit there is no hope, no future. I choose to believe continuing will be worth it, someday, because I believe God redeems even what I cannot bear.

I believe our losses matter to God. I also believe that our little lives matter to him. Well, whether you eat or drink… I believe that was I do has purpose, meaning, and therefore I will not quit.

This is a particularly deep valley, no doubt. It may go so far and so deep that I forget what sunshine feels like; but sunshine will still exist. The dragon might slay a hundred knights before being slain himself, but the fairytale only depends upon the one knight who lives. I refuse to believe that the story ends here, before the end. For me, I’m still “young” and I have reason to believe I’m not done yet.

It’s not a particular secret that I’m in love with Doctor Who (well, David Tennant), but why is worth exploring. Really, I love that the show is about a man who loses everything again and again, and somehow keeps moving forward–allons-y!–and proclaiming the small wonders of small lives “fantastic.” The world keeps turning, and we keep breathing. Can I really bear to spend those breaths waiting for the other shoe to drop, for the next calamity, curling into a fetal position for however long I have? I will, at moments. But there is too much beauty and living and ordinary adventure to stay in that position forever.

I’d rather a life of pain and acute loss punctuated by eternal hopes and moments of sunshine than a gray half-existence. Will I be able to convince myself of this when the days turn darker? I do hope so. But even the winter solstice, the darkest day of the year, is a little less dark the next day. I will rely on the slow return of spring as a matter of fact, of faith, even when all I see is the night.

“The way to love anything is to realise that it might be lost… This world and all our powers in it are far more awful and beautiful than even we know until some accident reminds us.” – Tremendous Trifles, 1909

The Beauty of Routine

A couple weeks after diagnosis, finding a “new normal” has surpassed the immediate grief reaction. And, happily, we’re finding peace and joy in the process. Two weeks is such a short amount of time, and an eternity. You get more obsessed with life when mortality is at your back.

I can’t express how grateful I am for the return to work at [no I’m not saying but it’s big and financial]. At times it feels so strange to tickety-tick away at my keyboard in advertising, that fleeting shout about a fleeting thing. But then, all of life is fleeting, so why should financial services not get its due? The routine feels wholesome, purposeful, an affirmation that our silly lives continue and still give us reasons to smile. Mom had brain surgery (literally, even though it was outpatient and knifeless–how weird is that?) the second day I was back, and I felt so lucky to have pre-built relationships with my coworkers so I could tell a few people without wondering if they’d second-guess my commitment or intentions. My plate is still a little bland, but I’ve been here before–I know it picks up, and I know how to scrounge up the work when it’s hiding.

Talking about it is easier. It’s become an accepted fact, like how the autumn days are getting shorter and moving towards a season of night. I can still love the season, even though I despise darkness. Is this new-found acceptance a type of objectivity, or peace? I’m not always sure. And yet, I never give an “update” the same way twice when people ask, as I discover new concerns, new hopes, and new faith in what God will do.

I do forget that every time someone who cares about my mom finds out, there will be a strong reaction. I realize more and more how many people she has touched with her quiet faithfulness and compassion, and how many people are taking the news hard. But selfishly, although I’m grateful she’s loved, I get so drained when people grab me in a hug and start crying. I appreciate their intentions, but we’re all choosing our moments carefully, and rationing our emotional energy. Is it rude to wish people would take their cues from our current moods? The lesson for me: remember to enter into people’s grief where they are at that moment–because sometimes it will look like joy, for life is beautiful.

This is the real adulthood. It’s not the close to my roaring twenties I expected, but a full reality of letting hope, happiness, pain, and the fleeting time coexist gracefully together.

Writing Hard and Clear About This Hurt

“Write hard and clear about what hurts.
Don’t avoid it.
It has all the energy.
Don’t worry, no one ever died of it.
You might cry or laugh, but not die.”

– Ernest Hemingway


I told a friend last fall that I feel God hasn’t required that much of me in my life so far. And at the time it was true–our kitchen fire resulted in a new kitchen rather than charred house, we had never truly worried about how to pay the bills (though we got good at frugality), and I enjoyed a full family that loved each other and me. Even my mom’s cancer, though the treatment was a bitch, seemed over and done with, some blip on the map, a destination we checked off “we’ve been there” and kept on our way.

Well, here we are. Your perspective shifts a whole lot in the week after you find out it’s back. And it’s not “back” in the “we’ve got to fight this SOB again,” but the “oh eff it was a sneak attack and we’re surrounded.” The eloquent XKCD comic illustrates what that weird word “recurred” really means.  And now, I know what God will require of me: my mother.

Our old pastor dropped by dad’s office and reminded him that, really, we’re supposed to hate death and sickness. In phrasing it to myself, it’s common but not natural. This is not the way it’s supposed to be, and anybody who says otherwise apparently hasn’t walked this road yet. We don’t have to take the news with a cherubic smile and say, “This is for my good.”

I have railed at God and shaken my fist a good deal in the past three weeks (I don’t know how I knew before the actual diagnosis, I just did) and still come back to faith as the one thing that makes sense in a FUBAR world, even if it’s a hard thing. And yes, I recognize that God uses our worst moments for our redemption–to put it tritely, our “good.” Yes, that is true, and I am fighting for truth to win out every day that I process this new reality. But don’t tell me that “my good” in the primary reason for this, because now you’re smoking something.

I’m learning that my God is pained at my suffering, that my God gives comfort and answers me even when I’m most angry. I’m learning that my God will not let me go. That he is faithful in all things, even when I am faithless.  This God is a personal God who loves, not one so far removed from my life that he takes away someone I love and calls it “good.” What he works is good; I can’t think of a single time he calls suffering “good” per se, despite what well-meaning people may say.

Another thing–God is not so small that the primary point of our suffering is his glory. I bristled considerably when someone young blurted out the “this is for your glory” phrase, because it makes God out to be so small and petty that he depends on our agony to draw attention to himself, to give himself a boost. That is beyond messed up and backwards. God has never, ever needed us for his glory, and he certainly has never needed our suffering to somehow “complete” his glory. I want nothing to do with a God whose sees the primary function of suffering as his own glory–that’s like the gods of old proving a point by toying with men’s lives.

My God is close when the waves break over me and I fall apart throughout this process, this discovery of a new normal. He will redeem the worst I can imagine–but he does not force me into it because he needs more glory or thinks it’s good for me. I don’t have an answer for the grand “where does evil come from” question, but I can answer this much: a broken world means brokenness will follow me, and my God has held me even as I’ve beaten my fists against the embrace. He will make sure my family does not endure the worst in vain, but in the good company of hope.

Yes, I can live with that.

“Don’t Think of Pink Elephants”–The Void in Our Modesty Talks

What happens when I tell you NOT to think of pink elephants?You remember that terrible dream sequence in Dumbo when our big-eared hero accidentally imbibes? With all the creepy, morphing pink elephants that sashay about and play oboe on their trunks? Every now and then I still catch myself humming “Pink Elephants on Parade” in the dead spaces of my day. Seriously. It’s like my own special purgatory.

No, pink elephants are really quite weird and psychedelic, and I don’t want to lead you down a path that makes pink elephants sound fun. So stop thinking about pink elephants. Just stop, right now, okay? Good.

Now that we’re done with that subject, what’s on your mind? Go ahead, say it out loud.

Seriously? But I told you NOT to think about pink elephants!

What you just experienced can be explained/described by ironic process theory and thought suppression psychology. The idea is simple–the more I tell you to just stop it, the more you can’t help but wander back to that forbidden idea of the freaking pink elephant. Our concentration is sometimes even greater on the subjects we’re NOT supposed to think about than the subjects we’re trying to focus on. Weird, isn’t it? The human mind is a strange and wonderful place.

I bring up this bit of pop psychology after reading this blog post by a curvy lady recounting her experience in and with the church, and recently enjoying Dorothy Sayers’ excellent wit in Are Woman Human? (by the way, it’s a wonderfully entertaining piece that focuses on our identity as people and children of God first). Because, you see, it’s all part of the same thing: how we communicate and determine the value of our fellow human beings.

The church has tried so hard to help us avoid the pitfalls of sex misappropriated in advertising and relationships. And I want to affirm that that’s a worthy goal. But the outworking I grew up with was a strange inversion of the cultural obsession; we weren’t exactly encouraged to become ascetics. Rather, we assumed the world was hypersexual, and that “boys and teenagers only think about one thing” was a valid premise for those both inside and outside the church. We didn’t think there was any changing that. And so we fashioned a response–a “purity culture”–that made us hyperaware of sexuality as something to be restrained. Well, restrained “until the right season.”

Remember, don’t think about pink elephants.

Do you see where this is going? Culturally, we perceived sexuality as liberally embraced on all sides as the paragon of pleasure and happiness. As a church, we responded by talking about why our sexuality should be tamed and controlled at all costs. But the conversation was always, always about sex as the foundation. We called the world’s ways “immodest.” We called this response “modesty.”

For instance, take the response to the highschool friendships with any guy friend I had. I was often defending the platonic nature of the friendship, or hearing that I shouldn’t go to “deep” in subject matter or time invested with such-and-such a friend lest we become emotionally compromised. In short, guy friends were a Big Deal. Not deliberately, perhaps, but they were.

I was actively encouraged to observe each guy friend to learn the qualities I would or wouldn’t want in a husband. My mentors thought this methodology encouraged me not to get too attached to any one boy… but ironically, observing every guy for his husband-or-not qualities only reinforced my tendencies as a boy-crazy, hopeless romantic. I often couldn’t get past the male/female puzzle to focus on the actual conversation. Because, after all, we were both teenagers, which meant we were both controlling that “one thing” in the back of our minds, right? Maybe it was a chicken-or-egg scenario, but in retrospect, purity culture certainly didn’t help elevate my thoughts.

Pink elephants. Don’t think about them.

Parents, you know your kids and I don’t. But may I suggest that teaching your kids to “guard their hearts” immediately puts them on the defensive, focused on every potentially flirty move with a heightened awareness of the other party’s genitals. Focused on warding off a potential attack, perhaps–but focused on a person’s sexuality before anything else. Your daughter will have trouble being “just friends” with the opposite gender when you teach her to evaluate every boy for his boyness and not his personhood, the imago dei imprinted on living soul.

In the Facebook conversation following the Double D posting, a friend who grew up in a similar church culture made this observation:

It seems that the biggest problem [in evangelical churches] has been the negative emphasis on “avoiding the sin”–rather than a positive way of viewing sexuality and an emphasis on respecting a woman as a unique person made in God’s image. What if we completely abandoned the language that is now pounded into guys, “don’t lust!” and into girls, “don’t dress immodestly, don’t cause men to stumble,” and instead focused on teaching boys the positive thing that modesty teaching fails to get across? I.e. for boys, how to respect women, how to build healthy friendships with girls. And for girls, how to value their bodies and how to dress in ways that enhance their beauty. Christians tend to fall into the same trap in other areas of morality–emphasizing the negative instead of trying to set out the positive thing in all its beauty.

I couldn’t agree more.

In these conversations, we’ve made ourselves hyperaware of a perceived cultural immodesty, and have striven to negate that. But we’ve gone so much further than we meant to. We’ve zeroed in on the very thing we tell our kids to ignore. How in the world can we expect the church NOT to think about pink elephants when the whole conversation is framed around their persistent existence?

I think we’ve gotten it backwards. Instead of teaching people to treat each other with respect, and to interact with each other humbly and harmoniously as children of God, we’ve taught our children to be afraid of themselves and afraid of the opposite gender because we spend so much time talking about the beast within. We’ve focused on what not to do, and left the application for the tail end of the modesty talks. Is it any wonder our kids get it backwards too?

Evangelicals are largely missing a comprehensive theology of the body, and we’re paying for it now. But we can do better. We know that God redeems the whole person–and the whole modesty/sexuality/responsibility question is included. I say all this hopefully, because I think the evangelical church is waking up to a deficiency, and realizing that we do have better answers to communicate. We see the voids left by purity culture. And we’re remembering that the Incarnation gives hope for this too.