Saturday, January 07, 2006

The Way Things Should Be--Two Examples

Clearing away some stuff from last year, here's a couple of things I meant to post earlier.


When Uncle Pookie and I went to Christmas Day mass at the church we used to attend before we moved here, I spotted a new piece of art in the entrance hall. It was composed of a number of wooden boxes arranged in a cross shape. Inside each box there were beads (and possibly some of those pins with beads on the end) artfully arranged with some of those wonderful Madonna and Child postage stamps the United States Postal Service used to publish every year until 2005, when they decided "holiday cookies" were a superior alternative. It had a folk art feel and yet was modern too. I liked it. *

I think this was part of "the way things should be", because churches should have contemporary art pieces as well as old pieces. Also because not all pieces have to have the same traditional look to be acceptable. Indeed sometimes the traditional look isn't always best--here I mean not the high art of Michelangelo's Pieta, but the lower end stuff. I'm fortunate to attend a church that, although recently built, has a lot of statues, stained glass, and pictures. But one of the statues of Mary is, even if it fits into traditional Catholic statuary genre, just ghastly; it makes me think of old store mannequins and eyeshadow, so however traditional it is it doesn't work as well as the other statues. (I still light candles in front of it, though; it's still a reminder of what it represents even if a less effective one than the other lovely statues of Mary.) We need more people of all skill levels and styles creating religious art. The society in general, not just churches or homes lucky enough to house these works, will be the richer for it.

*(I wouldn't be an American Catholic if I weren't complaining about something so let me say I noted with ambivalence they'd also added a statue of the Risen Christ in front of the weird Crucifixion painting--it now looks like the Risen Christ on the Cross, which is even weirder--and with displeasure that they still haven't put the tabernacle in the central location tabernacles ought to have; I had only good experiences there, but this church was undeniably designed back when a lot of Catholics had low self-esteem about being Catholic and wanted their buildings to look anything but.)


Back in, I guess, October, I was at a restaurant out of town with U.P. and a friend. While we were eating a woman from a table behind me got up to leave. She was wearing a loosely-fitted or semi-fitted black jacket and matching skirt that came down much longer than are usually worn with suits, but is a length I like to wear, and she had long wavy hair worn up. She was also free of make-up. I was admiring her appearance when her teenage daughter came into my view too. The daughter had really long curly hair and wore a long-sleeved tee-shirt and a long denim skirt of a type I'd seen several young women wear right around that time. And suddenly I guessed what I hadn't when I saw the mother: these women were dressed like that out of religious convictions about modesty. I was seated by a window so I looked around to the parking lot. I saw a minivan with a front plate advertising a Pentecostal church on it and, sure enough, this family (there was also a man and a small boy) got in it.

Why I think this is part of the way things should be: They were dressed modestly but not making a big deal of it. A while back I developed an interest in modesty in dress (caused by several years of having to look at girls' butt cracks, bellies, and boobs when all I wanted to do was buy some eggs or wait in line to see a movie) and looked at a number of web pages about same. I admire the intentions behind all of these women, religious (Christian and Jewish) and secular alike, but some of the Christian women seemed to think modesty was best served by adopting a mode of dress that looks costumey and yells, "Hey, I'm being modest over here!" I am not so sure about that approach. I like costumes and am very far from being averse to unconventional dressing, but it could be argued that calling attention to your modesty isn't the most modest thing possible and it is certain that choosing unflattering, costumey looks isn't going to win many converts to modest dressing. The mother and daughter I saw in the restaurant were different. They looked attractive and stylish--teenage stylish in the daughter's case, a more adult style in the mother's--and anyone might look at them and not realize they were dressed that way out of conviction.

I only guessed when I saw both of them together and even then it was only because I grew up in an area where there were a number of Holiness people. (Holiness is related to Pentecostalism but I'm not sure how exactly.) Female Holiness practitioners could always be recognized by this "look" they had: they always wore dresses or skirts, always had long hair (back then the middle-aged white ones piled it high on their heads, like an attempt to emulate the already-obsolete beehives of their more worldly contemporaries), and never wore makeup or nail polish. Beyond that, I can't describe it. None of them ever looked as nice as the mother and daughter I was talking about, though.

But this is the way modest clothing should be--attractive and not yelling, "Look at me!"

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