Tuesday, December 1, 2009

It's the Principle of the Thing

Part IV in the story of how I stopped adhering to the traditional Pentecostal lifestyle. Here are Part I, Part II, and Part III.

Sorry if I left you hanging with my announcement to Justin that I had been cutting my hair for years and that I apologized for keeping it a secret from him (and thereby potentially damaging his trust in me) but that I felt fine about trimming my hair. I gave some of my reasons why I had started to believe that God was not requiring me to follow those guidelines.

If the first big surprise of the night was that I'd blurted out my secret, the second surprise was that he wasn't angry with me. He thanked me for telling him and asked for some time to process it.

Later, Justin told me that his mind had been changing as well. (How like our God to work on two people at the same time, without either of them knowing about the other's journey!) He later told me that he thought, "I know Alison's love for God and her spirit has not changed. So obviously cutting her hair did not change her spiritual life--and therefore it must not be as important as we were taught." He shared these thoughts with me and we decided to study and seek God for ourselves rather than blindly following church traditions. We were still open to keeping any standards that we felt were appropriate for our family, if there was truly a Biblical basis for them rather than "we've always done it this way." At the same time, we were willing to accept other Christians who didn't have the same beliefs. Above all, we were determined not to be judgmental, sour believers who gave Christianity a bad reputation.

One of the first steps we took was to talk to our pastor--who happens to be my dad, but we have great respect for him as a pastor and not just as my father. After 34 years at the same church, he has a LOT of wisdom, which in my opinion he showed by allowing the people who didn't conform to the standards to continue attending our church despite the protests from long-term members who wanted everyone to look and behave alike. In all those years, Dad didn't preach about the standards (they were more of a social norm, an unspoken rule) and as people started to change, he simply didn't say anything and treated them just like the other church members. This meant that we lost quite a few people who thought our church was abandoning the truth. That was painful for my parents, but Dad didn't revert back to the old ways because, like us, he had come to believe that the standards were not essential to being a Christian or even a Pentecostal. Therefore, he encouraged us to pray and study for ourselves and he gave us a book written by a friend of his that allowed for a more moderate interpretation of the Scriptures the conservatives always trotted out as "proof" that God's will involved looking like you belong in the nineteenth century.

I won't provide an exegesis of the Scriptures we studied, but suffice it to say that Justin and I saw clearly what we believed those Scriptures to mean. We saw that the principle of the thing is what God is after, not specific items of clothing or hairstyles which can change over time and between cultures. Does God want people to be modest? I believe so. Do different people interpret modesty differently? Yes. I hope to teach my children that when they are showing certain parts of their bodies to get a reaction from the opposite sex, that's a problem. We have to internalize the principle of modesty and not wear things that make us feel immodest. I realize there is a lot to this topic that I haven't answered here, but if you're interested in discussing it, ask a question in the comments and I will answer you in another post to the best of my ability as long as you ask respectfully, even if you disagree. In fact, ask anything you'd like to know about these posts!

As for where we are now, we feel completely happy with our decision. I have long hair by most people's standards--to my shoulder blades--but it's that long because my husband and I like it that way, and every stylist I've had agrees that I should keep the length, with some layers to give it shape! Fixing my hair is so much easier now that I don't have to hide split ends. I wear subtle makeup and am pleased at how it defines my best features and gives natural color to my pale skin. I wear pants, shorts, sleeveless tops, and jewelry. By the way, pants are MORE modest than a skirt when you're caring for small children, especially if you should have to climb into a plastic tube at Chick-Fil-A to rescue a screaming child! As I said, I do feel I dress modestly, with camis under super-low necklines and skirts to the knee or right above. But that's just age appropriate, too! I am NOT interested in showing off my cellulite. Anyway, it's all a personal decision which I don't impose on others because I am DONE with trying to play God. It's amazing how much more freeing it feels to stop trying to be the Judge!

Of course, my in-laws don't feel the same way at ALL, which makes visiting for the holidays about as relaxing as a stroll through a Vietnamese minefield! But that's another story for another day.



  1. Thank you so much for sharing your insight into how outer trappings of religion can become more meaningful for folks than spirituality.
    Modesty for Orthodox Jewish women means cutting their hair and covering it when out in public.
    For the Buddhist nuns and monks, it means cutting your hair to show humility and lack of vanity.
    Thank you again, Blessings to you all.

  2. Justin's reaction to this situation makes me respect him even more. He handled it with such an open mind, with patience and with deliberate reflection. Good job, Juck!

  3. Thanks so sharing all of that with us! I've enjoyed reading all those posts and to be honest, I didn't understand anything about the whys of those mandates so I definitely feel more educated.

    My sister converted to Islam a year and a half ago and made the commitment to fully commit, which means adjusting her diet, schedule (for prayer) and her style of dress. She now wears clothing that fully covers her body (though she does wear sandals and flipflops), and a hijab over her hair and neck/shoulders. I wasn't completely comfortable with it until she explained the whys behind doing so, but moreso because she explained that she LIKED being modest; that she was saving her body for her (future) husband's eyes only. I completely respect that as well as any religious observer who doesn't just blindly do as others do because it's easy but because they truly believe it's the right thing to do for themselves.

  4. My friend, I am so so so glad that you have made that decision and your dad was supportive. Religion is definitely a very personal belief. It is never governed by how you dress or look on the appearance. Its what 'internal' that truly matters.

  5. I often feel self conscious and immodest in some of my clothes, but that's hard to fix, because I live in a very hot area, and the only clothes in the shops are... well... skimpy-ish!

    I draw the line at midriffs and low cut tops. If I have to wear a hipster band around my tummy or a singlet under a top, I do, no matter how hot it is! Some of my shorts could be longer, but unless I sew another few inches of fabric onto the legs, I don't know what I could do about that.

    I would hate to be the cause of any young man's struggle with pure thoughts. But maybe my minimal attractions make that moot... I'm going to do some more thinking about this. By the way, a guy I know once told me his major "turn-ons" were pony tails and long pants on a chick. So sometimes you're darned either way...

  6. So nice to read about your journey in faith and to know that we all have our struggles with authority in the Church...my Catholic upbringing has some parallels with yours...

  7. It is so wonderful to see that you and your Husband made the choices together, and that you sought the guidance you needed.

    Did you hear any comments from the people of your church? I wonder if they were as open in the end, as you and your husband.

  8. I've really enjoyed reading all of these posts and learning more about your religion and upbringing. I love hearing conversion stories as they strengthen my faith as well. :-) thanks for sharing...