Tuesday, June 07, 2005

on legalism, grace, and skinny naked legs

So I'm back. I got home from my writers' conference, realized that for the first time in months, I didn't have a looming deadline or teaching engagement staring at me, and felt a yearning to clean like you can't believe. I don't mean wipe-the-counter cleaning. I mean move-all-the-furniture cleaning. It's amazing how much joy you can derive from scrubbing the floor when you haven't been free to do so for months.

So I didn't blog yesterday. I may not have blogged today either, since the cleaning mood is still raging over me and I've got a frightened closet whimpering in the background even as I type -- except that my daughter said something on the way to school that caused my heart to race and my face to go all flush. I'm fuming right now, and if I don't vent on you, I may just scrub the paint off the walls.

Our children go to a Christian school in the area. We homeschooled for years, but when Zac hit puberty and we both started donning boxing gloves every morning before meeting over the breakfast table, Dave wisely decided I should go back to being Mom and retire my teaching hat. I cried for three days at the time, but I can see he was right. It's so nice to be their champion at the end of the day instead of their dictator (please don't take offense at that if you're a homeschooler yourself. I'm only describing myself. I was Herr Schoolmaster, there at the end, and I'm glad to be done with that persona.) Take today, for instance. The house is clean, the candles are lit (it's very dark and cloudy right now, just the way I like it) and a fresh batch of almond poppy-seed muffins are cooling on the counter and awaiting my always-hungry duo. When the kids get home, we'll have missed each other. I'm content.

Except about what Tera said. Today is Tuesday, which means they have an hour of chapel in the morning. The rule at the school is that you must wear nicer clothes on Tuesdays than you would on ordinary days. I've had issues with that for the past few years, and last year I vented a bit about that on one of my friends, who happens to teach at the school. A boy in her class had been sent home (by the principal) to change clothes, since he forgot about chapel and showed up in shorts -- shorts with ragged edges, no less.

The boy in question goes to our church, so he's definitely getting two conflicting messages on this clothing issue. Calvary Chapel is about as informal as you can get. We're big on two things: Jesus, and the Word. In fact, we're so consumed with those two things that we have no energy left over to expend on dress codes. We just want you to come, and as long as all the appropriate parts are covered, we don't much care what you look like. Some people like to dress up, but the vast majority just wear whatever is most comfortable. We have a few guys who wear shorts to church all year long. One guy refuses to wear long-legged jeans. Says the last time he did that was at his wedding. We tease him every time it snows.

I pointed all this out to my teacher-friend. And I explained my main issue with the school's stance. I said, "What you're really telling these kids is that God is more pleased with them when they dress up." She saw my point, but defended the school and pointed out that we have 44 different churches represented, some of which are very conservative, and went on to say that it's good for the kids to learn respect. I didn't see a correlation between respect and God's view of bare-legged boys, but I like my friend and I didn't want to keep her squished there between our friendship and her loyalty to her employer. So I dropped it.

Jump to this morning. Today is Field Day at the school, which is kind of their own miniature, end-of-the-year Olympics. Tera has been jazzed about this for months. She loves to run and has spent the last two weeks "practicing." She's a Tazmanian blur as she races past my window; I'd know it was her even if I didn't know it was her, just by the the little blonde pony tail trailing horizontally in her wake.

We bought some shorts for the occasion -- black with white racing stripes down the sides. She liked them so much, she decided to wear them not just for Field Day, but all day. The conflict didn't dawn on me until we were on our way to the shuttle and it was too late to do anything about it.

"Hey!" I said, turning to look back at her in the car. "Isn't today chapel?"

"Yep," she answered.

"But you're in shorts. Did you bring something to change into for chapel?"

"Nope," my oh-so-talkative daughter replied.

"Won't you get in trouble?" I asked. I had visions of the school secretary calling me to fetch my rule-breaking daughter and bring her home to change clothes.


"Isn't it still a rule that you dress up on Tuesdays?" I prodded.


"Then you'll get in trouble," I insisted.

"No," she said. "I won't get in trouble. They'll just make me sit in a different seat."

I didn't like the sound of that. "What do you mean a different seat? Where will you have to sit?"

"I'll just have to move back a few rows away from all the other kids."

Even as I type those words, my heart is working itself up again to a raging tempo. A different seat? Away from the other kids?

Is my daughter contagious?

Or is she simply inappropriate, less-respectable, unfit and unworthy ... because she's in shorts??

There is nothing, and I mean nothing, that gets me riled up like legalism. I don't know the God of those who draw lines in the sand and defy others to step over. Don't get me wrong -- I know God has established rules and I trust His wisdom. I know that sin is sin and we can't whitewash behavior just because society has a habit of changing the rules that make them squirm. That gets me riled up, too. But I'm not talking about black and white issues, issues God clearly addresses in Scripture (adultery, homosexuality, sex outside marriage, lying, coveting, slander, murder, etc. -- and yes, He has shared His opinion on all those matters.). I'm talking about those gray areas where God has remained silent. Issues like whether or not it's okay for a child to wear shorts on a Tuesday morning while they sing worship songs and hear a story from the Bible. I'm talking about piercings and tattoos and mohawks and dredlocks and jeans on Sunday -- and all the people I love and fellowship with who have and/or wear those things.

Doesn't Scripture tell us that "Man looks on the outside, but God sees the heart?" Isn't that what we're trying to reach with our good news -- the hearts of those who are hurting?

I have half a mind to draw a big sign with a single word on it: "Grace" and picket that school today. If I didn't think my children would die of embarrassment, I just might.

We've been rethinking our school options for next year. This may have settled that question.

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16 Comment:

At 6/07/2005 3:15 PM, Blogger Ellen had this to say ...

I couldn't agree with you more Shannon. We must be twins or something... sinners saved by grace, separated at new birth. ha.

At 6/07/2005 3:52 PM, Blogger shannon had this to say ...

Yes ... I've been grieving you lo these many years! :)

Thanks, Ellen.

At 6/07/2005 5:04 PM, Anonymous Anonymous had this to say ...

Go Shannon! I loved that!

At 6/07/2005 5:31 PM, Anonymous lynetta.write.away@gmail.com had this to say ...


Wow. What's weird is I was just reading James 2 today. It says,1 "My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism. 2 For if a man comes into your assembly with a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes, and there also comes in a poor man in dirty clothes, 3 and you pay special attention to the one who is wearing the fine clothes, and say, "You sit here in a good place," and you say to the poor man, "You stand over there, or sit down by my footstool," 4 have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil motives? (I added italics for emphasis.)

Uncanny resemblence to the school situation, huh? I hope she at least had fun at the track meet.


At 6/07/2005 9:46 PM, Blogger Fran had this to say ...

You know Shannon, I just love that about our church. When we were struggling financially I couldn't afford nice clothes if I'd wanted them. We had issues w/the church we were going to but to their credit they didn't kick me out over it. I could always tell I was subpar though. I love looking over the crowd of people on a Sunday morning and seeing pink hair next to conservatively styled grey hair next to no hair and so on.

At 6/07/2005 10:29 PM, Anonymous Layne had this to say ...

We're up against eachother in battle of the blogs right now, so I thought I'd take a moment to let you know how much of an impact your entry on grace has had on me. All day today (I read it last night) I have found myself standing down when my tongue tried to run away with me. I continually pictured myself standing between my misbehaving children and the Lord. It has affectd me deeply, and served as a good reminder that faith is an every moment lifestyle, not just a "big decisionsSundays" reality. Thank you

At 6/07/2005 11:06 PM, Blogger thequeen had this to say ...

I can't believe they would actually make her or any other child sit away from the other kids as if she wasn't good enough to sit with the children who where dressed "better".
WOW that makes me angry.
I certainly agree with you about changing schools.

At 6/08/2005 9:11 AM, Blogger Nancy had this to say ...

Wow Lynnetta that says it all, doesn't it? I am with you Shanny, except when Michael wears a baseball hat to church it bothers me, that is the Catholic upbringing in me. I have told him before that if he wouldn't wear it at the dinner table he shouldn't wear it at church! I also agree with Fran, it is nice to see such a diverse crowd on Sunday, that is really who we are, why disquise it.

Go get em Shan!!

At 6/08/2005 11:23 AM, Blogger Bill and Glory had this to say ...

You know, I have walked on both sides of this gray area. When we started going to our church I wore the skirts, dresses, what have you because I was brought up to believe that I should be respectful of God's house. When I got involved in the worship team I soon realized how I could be a distraction because my style of dress stood out against the rest of the team in jeans and t-shirts. I struggled with it, but not for long, and created quite a stir the first Sunday I showed up in a pair of jeans! I agree with lynetta here as well. Great blog.


At 6/08/2005 3:53 PM, Anonymous susan had this to say ...

Geesh! How Christian like is it to catagorize kids by what they wear!.
You should quote Lynettas' verse from James 2 for the school administrator.

At 6/08/2005 4:36 PM, Blogger CT had this to say ...


At 6/08/2005 11:16 PM, Blogger shannon had this to say ...

Lynetta, that's so perfect. What do you say you paint that verse on a sign and join my little picket? :) Talk about a fitting verse. If this comes up between us and the principal, I'll be sure to remind her of that.

Layne, thanks so much for letting me know what you've been thinking. The memory of that day has convicted me many times when I get in "lecture-mode."

Good idea, Susan. :)

Thanks, everyone!

At 6/08/2005 11:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous had this to say ...

Hi Shannon, I appreciate your post and certainly understand some of your concerns. However, there were a couple of comments that I felt the Spirit move me to comment on and perhaps encourage you to think about during your quiet times with our Lord.

I hear an awful lot these days from our church and others within the Body about the need to beware of "legalism" and keep clear of it. I believe there's an element of truth in that and an element of falsehood. Clearly we see examples in Scripture of Paul admonishing Believers for their excesses. You commented, that you "didn't see a correlation between respect and God's view of bare-legged boys." While I would agree with you that God views the "bare-legged boys" hearts and not their outward appearance, I don't see how one can argue that there is a direct correlation between how one dresses and the level of respect they may be showing given a particular circumstance. This is difficult at best to explain in this forum but let me just suggest that if there were no correlation, the term "Sunday's Best" would have never been coined. Why do people dress up for a wedding or a funeral if not for respect? So what's the problem with dressing up a little for one day during a chapel service?

We are also told that we're to be all things to all men in order for the Gospel to be put forth. We are admonished to consider the weaker brother. We are exhorted to esteem others more than ourselves. Isn't it possible that acquiesing to the school's Dress Code might help strengthen a "more conservative's" efforts at teaching their child respect. If outward appearance is not important, then why did God go to such efforts to tell us in His word of example after example where He specifically was meticulous about dress and other ceremonial practices? What is God trying to tell us in 1Cor 4-16? Why do we sometimes go to God as Our Father, sometimes Daddy, and sometimes as God Almighty? Why do we pray sometimes driving down the road, or on our back in bed, and at other times on our knees?

The Bible I read tells me that our God is not the author of confusion but rather there is order and discipline to how our God works. We are called to be in the World but not of the World. When others look at us, whether we like it or not, sometimes the only testimony they will have is our outward appearance. I see Scripture as clearly telling us that we should be different. That others should see Jesus in us and an evident difference between us and the World. Sometimes I see very little difference between those who call themselves Believers and the World. A good case in point is Howard Dean's most recent comment where he self-identified himself as a White Christian. I won't go into that because that's definitely another issue, but who would know he's a Christian by his outward appearance and things he says and does?

Your blog specifically mentioned, "I'm talking about piercings and tattoos and mohawks and dredlocks and jeans on Sunday -- and all the people I love and fellowship with who have and/or wear those things." If you were to classify those things as either Godly or Worldly, which category would you put them in? Are piercings, tattoos, mohawks etc. done because God called them to or because of peer pressure, to be cool or in some other way to be accepted by the World. We are called to esteem others more than ourselves - and that goes both ways true enough - but has anyone ever considered how difficult (if not impossible) it is for me to instill respect for my beliefs from my children when all around them they get a different message. Including within the church? If I tell my kids that they can't have green hair (or piercings, or tattoos, or wear cutoffs with their underwear three inches above them at church, etc etc.) because it's dishonoring and disrespectful to me and the family name, and that if God wanted them to have green hair He'd have created them with it, then how is the church helping me when it's all over the inside? Please don't get me wrong, I know there's a danger in dwelling too much on those things. But I do believe there must be a balance. Just as there is with God. He is Holy and Righteous, Merciful and full of Grace, vengeful, a judge, and yet loving and forgiving. We cannot be totally legalistic and yet we cannot go without standards.

I agree wholeheartedly with the comment that Nancy made. If you wouldn't wear your hat to the dinner table, then why would you wear it in church? Isn't it possible that with such emphasis on "not" being "legalistic", that we are failing others but not giving them the chance to understand a "Holy" God and what He means when He says "Be Holy for I am Holy?"

As for finding another school, that's certain you and Dave's business and call. I wonder though, what's God trying to do in this situation? I'm reminded of some I've talked with who went from one church to another until they found one that they liked or that "didn't do what that other church did." I've often asked them what difference they could have made if they would have stayed where God put them and looked at what God wanted them to do in the situation rather than just getting out of something they weren't comfortable with.

That's not to say you should stay or go. As I said, that's you and Dave's call and I'm certain that you'll look to the Lord first. It's just food for thought to all who might be reading this and wondering "Why am I in this situation?"

Some may be asking what I'd do and how I'd handle it. Without full knowledge of the situation, I can only say I'd be thanking God that I have a Christian school to send my child to and I'd be teaching my kids why it's important to dress up on this one day so as to pay special tribute to God Almighty and to honor the schools officials who God has put in charge as authorities over that school. And why it also honors the other parents and children who might want to have a special dress up day to honor God. One thing I'm pretty sure of though is that picketting the school would be the last thing on my mind - not even jokingly.

So in closing let me just say that I certainly understand some of your frustration but just as you fume over legalism, I get pretty worked up when I see people advocate no standards (or at least very lax standards) all in the name of Grace. I find it very hard to believe that when I see Jesus, He'll be full of piercings, tattoos, green hair, and wearing cutoffs and a tank top. Somehow I just believe I'll see a KING adorned as a king. It strikes me as there must have been something very striking about Jesus' appearance to have John passout when he first saw Him.

Ok, that's enough. I hope I've made some sense here. Like I said, it's a difficult thing to explain without a personal conversation. I just thought I'd add a little different perspective because I felt the Spirit telling me to do so.

At 6/09/2005 6:38 AM, Blogger Monica had this to say ...

Shannon, I commend you for taking on homeschooling! I know a lot of children who are. My boys were both in public school and I have my teenage daughter in Christian school...each of them has the school that is RIGHT for them.
Your entire post today is quite good. I really enjoy reading your blog.
Take care.

At 6/09/2005 11:42 PM, Anonymous Anonymous had this to say ...

P.S. I just remembered something I wanted to share. Last year I was asked by an Elder in the church to refrain from an activity in the presence of others at a church event. The activity is perfectly legal and not specifically prohibited in Scripture. The reason I was given was that it might be difficult to explain to others why I chose to do it. When I was told that, I immediately felt my flesh rise up and want to say, "What about the others with piercings, tattoos, (fill in the blank)" but I recognized it as my flesh and walked away and prayed about it. After much time in contemplation and prayer, I decided to let it go and submit to the Elder according to what I see Scripture calling us to do with regard to those appointed over us. My point simply is that sometimes we need to put our liberty aside for the sake of what might be perceived as legalism. In this case, I gave it to God and told Him that I'd trust Him to change the Elders mind if he was off-track. Otherwise, though it didn't make sense to me, I would trust Him and know there was some good reason for it. I could have chosen to exercise my liberty and rightfully pointed out that it was "legalism" but rather was blessed by a good lesson learned. I won't go into all that I learned but suffice it to say that it was a clear step up in my spiritual maturity. So, sometimes when things may appear to be "legalistic", maybe God has a good reason for why it's happening.

At 6/20/2005 8:37 AM, Blogger Kim had this to say ...

If you change your mind about picketing, I can join you. haha I'll make a sign for me and a little sign for Blake. He can go without a shirt and I can put him in a pair of shorts with his diaper sticking up out the back a bit. ;)


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