Sunday, June 23, 2013

Modest is Hottest: Modesty About More Than Clothes

A decade ago I worked at a swimming pool supply store with a good friend. Winters and cloudy days could be slow for business, which for us meant we had time to grab a pizza and talk about whatever came up. Most of those conversations turned to sports, politics or the gospel.

In one discussion, which probably started with my married friend asking me how the dating scene was going, we drifted somehow into a discussion of women's fashion. More specifically, we both agreed that the way a girl dressed changed how we thought about them. Though sexy styles that showed off a lot of a girl's body seemed fun and could get our hormones on high alert, somehow the girls that were fashionable but covered were cuter, more confident, deeper, and more mature.

What we recognized from our experiences was confirmed in a 2009 study conducted by Susan Fiske at Princeton University. Perhaps too briefly summarized, Fiske used brain scans to effectively show that men use the 'tools' part of their brains when they see scantily clad women. She concluded that women that show a lot of their bodies are seen more as objects to be used in the male brain, rather than a person to relate with and connect to emotionally. Fiske's study did not make value judgments or comment on how this reaction in the male brain may be influenced by genetics versus environment, but her revelation on the mental objectification of women has inspired both renewed calls for modesty and at least one emphatic rebuttal that have received significant media coverage for an issue of that has taken so many turns in the spotlight over the last hundred years and more.

The gospel of Jesus Christ does have something to say in the discussion on modesty-- and it may not be what you think you've heard before. As modesty critics have said, the gospel teaches that each of us has our agency (2 Nephi 2:27) and 'men [and women] will be punished for their own sins' (Articles of Faith 1:2). Men are responsible for their own thoughts and actions; a woman's dress (or lack thereof) does not justify inappropriate thoughts or behavior whatsoever.

That hardly lets women off the hook, however. Paul taught the Romans that there should, 'no man [or woman] put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother's [or sister's] way' (Romans 14:13). He gave the example to the people of Corinth that 'if meat causes my brother to stumble, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother falter' (1 Corinthians 8:13).

At the end of the day, the secular battle over modesty misses the point. Modesty isn't just about how we dress, it is an attitude of humility and decency that applies equally to men and women. It is a willingness to 'glorify God in your body, and in your spirit' rather than seeking undue attention to yourself (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). It applies to how we dress, how we groom ourselves, the language we use and the choices we make about how we will act.

For every lesson we have about women's clothes, there is a lesson to be taught about men shaving and keeping their hair trimmed, a point to be made about the size of our homes or volumes of our vehicles, and still more we should learn about using positive, uplifting language that brings happiness to those around you. Our efforts to be modest will be reflected in our outward appearance and actions, leading to increased guidance and comfort from the Holy Ghost. Extreme or inappropriate behavior in any aspect of our lives, including our thoughts, impairs our ability to receive those quiet promptings.

Modesty is something that we are in our hearts before it is reflected in our appearance. Elder Packer has taught that 'true doctrine, understood, changes attitudes and behavior. The study of the doctrines of the Gospel will improve behavior quicker than a study of behavior will improve behavior. Preoccupation with unworthy behavior can lead to unworthy behavior. That is why we stress so forcefully the study of the doctrines of the Gospel' (CR, October 1986, p. 20). An attitude that is selfless, grateful and modest is one of the natural consequences of frequent gospel study and coming closer to our Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ. It is an indication of a broken heart and contrite spirit, a clue that we are becoming not just convinced but also converted to the gospel. If we are modest in our hearts things that are immodest will lose their appeal. We will find ourselves drawn to modest homes, modest fashions, and modest behaviors.

Our bodies are sacred gifts from our Heavenly Father. They are created in His image. Paul taught that they are temples for our spirits and of the Holy Ghost, which we have of God... 'For [we] are bought with a price [through the Atonement of Christ]; therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's' (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). We are not our own, nor have we the right, regardless of our gender, to covet a body that is not ours nor entice others with something that is only God's to give.

Respect for ourselves, and others' respect for us, begins with modesty. Modesty is anchored in a knowledge of our divine heritage. It endures as we keep the Lord's law of chastity, including chastity in the thoughts and desires of our hearts, and as we strive to have virtue and humility in our conversation and appearance. It is required of men and women alike, and it rewards us with happier lives and a more constant companionship of the Holy Ghost.

Going on ten years since my conversation in the pool supply store, I'm grateful to have met and married a modest woman. She is gorgeous and challenges me to be a little better every day. More often than not I'm the one that is too lazy or sloppy to shave or get out of my sweat pants. The chance to study and write about modesty has encouraged my own efforts to be well groomed,  use uplifting language and respect the divinity in myself and those around me with my thoughts and actions. I know the Lord will expand my ability to have joy and communion with his Spirit as I become consistent in my efforts. He keeps all His promises.

For more on the Church's teachings about modesty, including more specific guidelines for dress and grooming, follow these links to True to the Faith and For the Strength of Youth.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Musing About Amusements

The word 'muse' is used only a couple of times in scripture. To muse is to ponder deeply or to be absorbed in thought. King David wrote that he meditated on the creations of God or 'muse[d] on the work of thy hands' (Psalm 143:5). As he pondered on truth, his 'heart was hot within [him], while I was musing the fire burned' as he felt the Holy Ghost confirm truth to his soul (Psalm 39:3). Perhaps it was a similar confirmation that the Jews sought when they, 'mused in their hearts of John [the Baptist], whether he were the Christ, or not' (Luke 3:15).

After the Angel Moroni appeared to Joseph Smith and taught him of the prophecies that would be fulfilled by the coming forth of the Book of Mormon and the location of the plates that Joseph would translate to make that book, Joseph wrote that he, 'lay musing on the singularity of the scene, and marveling greatly at what had been told to me' (JS-H 1:44). His meditation was interrupted by another angelic visitation, but deep pondering-- that is, musing-- would prove to be the means for many future revelations that would bring about the full restoration of the gospel in our dispensation. Like King David and Joseph Smith, musing and meditation can precede revelation in our own lives.

One of the fundamental principles of the gospel is that there is an absolute truth. All things that are true are necessarily consistent with all other things that are true; truth can be circumscribed into one great whole. The inevitable consequence of this principle is that the truths that bless our lives may be found in scripture, in physics, in philosophy, in anatomy, in mathematics, or, among many other places, in grammar.

A member of my church congregation pointed out one of the lessons we can learn from grammar in a recent testimony. He reminded us that adding an 'a' to the beginning of a word changes the meaning of the word to its opposite: so something apolitical is not political; something that is asymmetrical lacks symmetry; and something that is atypical is anything but typical.

Applied to the word 'muse', grammar teaches us that the opposite of pondering and meditation is amusement. Rather than the deep, soul searching thoughts of musing, amusing implies shallow, fleeting thoughts on topics of trivial value.

Though some amusement may be fun and useful in relieving stress or bringing temporary satisfaction, it is unlikely to precede revelation or bring us closer to God in the same way that its antithesis, musing, can. Elder Dallin H. Oaks has taught:

Our priorities are most visible in how we use our time. Someone has said, 'Three things never come back--the spent arrow, the spoken word, and the lost opportunity.'... Good choices are especially important in our family life. For example, how do family members spend their free time together? Time together is necessary but not sufficient. Priorities should govern us in the precious time we give to our family relationships. Compare the impact of time spent merely in the same room as spectators for television viewing with the significance of time spent communicating with one another individually and as a family.

To cite another example, how much time does a family allocate to learning the gospel by scripture study and parental teachings, in contrast to the time family members spend viewing sports contests, talk shows, or soap operas? I believe many of us are overnourished on entertainment junk food and undernourished on the bread of life...

A decade later, Elder Ian S. Ardern added his testimony:

I know our greatest happiness comes as we tune in to the Lord (see Alma 37:37) and to those things which bring a lasting reward, rather than mindlessly tuning in to countless hours of status updates, internet farming, and catapulting angry birds at concrete walls. I urge each of us to take those things which rob us of precious time and determine to be their master, rather than allowing them through their addictive nature to be the master of us.

To have the peace the Savior speaks of (see John 14:27), we must devote our time to the things that matter most, and the things of God matter most. As we engage with God in sincere prayer, read and study each day from the scriptures, ponder on what we have read and felt, and then apply and live the lessons learned, we draw nearer to Him. God's promise is that as we study diligently from the best books, '[He] shall give unto [us] knowledge by his Holy Spirit' (D&C 121:26; see also D&C 109:14-15).

'Muse' is not a very common word in the modern American vocabulary. The member of my congregation, Elder Oaks, Elder Ardern, and other inspired voices have counseled us all to make it more common in our private lives and vocabularies. Exactly when and how would work best for you-- well, that might be your first reason to push an 'a' aside and start musing.