Friday, January 11, 2008

Lipstick and Questions: my scenic route to God~PART SIX

First of all, a few factual corrections to my last post:
  1. I actually spent thirteen years as a Pentecostal. (It only seemed like nine years because I was dissociating for about four years of it.)
  2. Dave's right: I decided to leave and then HE got kicked out, but I'll explain all that later.
You already know some of the distinctives of this particular Pentecostal church from my descriptions, but I have to give you just one more piece of the puzzle before I move on. This church had something they called "holiness standards", and for those of you who don't know what that is, it's just as repulsive as it sounds. Holiness standards were a strict set of rules that governed your appearance.

For women, it meant:

  1. you couldn't cut your hair
  2. no makeup
  3. no jewelry (except wedding rings and the occasional pin on your coat, although this was frowned on by some)
  4. no jeans or shorts (only dresses or skirts were allowed)
  5. no fun (OK, I made that up, but it's kind of implied)
For men, it meant:
  1. no shorts
  2. no facial hair
  3. no long hair
Of course when push came to shove no one really cared much about the men's rules. If a guy wanted to play tennis and wore a pair of shorts no one really paid that much attention. However, if a woman wanted to join him for a round or two and wore a pair of shorts it would result in a scandal that would follow the poor harlot around for the next ten years. She would practically have to wear a big "A" across her bosom and yell "unclean" so people would not mistake her for someone respectable. If you look really closely at these "standards" it will dawn on you that it was fairly easy to look like a normal human being if you were a guy, but if you were a woman you pretty much looked like a bag lady or Laura Ingalls Wilder no matter how hard you tried. Still, it was the price of admission and it seemed like a small hoop to jump through in order to be a saint and avoid Armageddon, so I took my medicine like a good girl. Mostly.

Anyway, these rules were not, in the long run, just a benign annoyance. They spoke to me. They whispered in my ear something about worth and dignity and control. They became a splinter in the center of my mind, gnawing at my heart almost continuously. I began to notice all the little ways they created a wall between me and the rest of the world. Even worse than this, they also separated me from God. When the honest questions about all of this started to surface in the back of my brain it was the beginning of the end of my Pentecostal days. As soon as these questions found their way from my mind to my mouth, I might as well have been screaming "unclean" at the top of my lungs. They had exactly the same kind of effect.

Questions are the most dangerous heresy of all. More dangerous than lipstick.

I promise I'll tell you all about the leaving and getting kicked out next time.


  1. posted while I was commenting on the last fair!

    Your comment on questions being the most dangerous heresy of all touches a deep place in me...a place I'm not so sure I want to go back and dig around in. (I've thought about walking away from God entirely (a couple of times!) because of questions.) But you're so very right that what goes on in our heads and our hearts is, somehow...than what happens on the outside.

    This has ushered me into a rush of thoughts on our insides and our outsides and how they can reflect each other, or not, and how they effect each other. Thank your for your words, as these are important for me, I think.

  2. I liked the dress idea as a young boy with all those hormones raging through me, but what killed it was the "had to cover the knees" rule. It's hard to get worked up over calf muscles and ankles.
    Oh, and they find really interesting things to do with their very long hair (it's a sin to cut it if you're of the fairer gender). Most just put it up in a simple "bun" style. But some of the girls got really creative and started using the extra chop sticks that they got with their Chinese food.
    Not really but they were using some kind of foreign objects in there.
    I don't know. I guess you really had to be there to appreciate it.

  3. you got to wear wedding rings? no fair. We had to have an 'engagement watch'. Yep - a watch. Because it supposedly served a purpose besides being ornamental. Like a wedding ring doesn't serve a purpose. Please.
    (You are kind of saying that men usually look like frumpy bag ladies withoug makeup so it's easier for them to keep the rules? hehe. )

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  6. [sorry, had to delete my original comment & repost. i had an innocent typo in there that was BAAAAAAAAAADDD!!!]

    Wow. "Holiness standards"? Really? I always think it's funny when Christians of a particular bent have a thing about men having long hair and/or facial hair when the most familiar depictions of Christ portray him with both. They might have a problem with those long, flowy robes on a guy, too. So by necessity, Jesus must have been a clean-shaven, crew cut-sporting guy who had about 8 pair of Dockers, right?

    [sorry, couldn't resist]

    I, too, know about the grave heresy of asking questions. Like it's a sin to question your church leadership when they start breaking the very rules they wrote and had the audacity to call a "church constitution". You can get kicked out for that kind of thing (but perhaps I'll save that for my own post).

    But really, this kind of thing has been happening since the earliest days of Christianity. I think of the Judaizers described in Galatians: those dudes who went around telling Christians that if they *really* wanted to be saved, they needed to get circumcized too (because being saved by grace through faith wasn't quite enough). I suppose there are all sorts of conjectures out there as to what motivates Christian groups to pile their own sets of arbitrary rules upon God's plan to redeem humanity; a control thing, perhaps? Putting God in a box?

    Anyway, I can see myself getting off on some tangential issues, here. [getting back on track...]

    It's true that you have a most colored, varied, & interesting history here. I'll say it again, you've got me hooked. I can't wait to hear how God brought you through this, since we already know that He did. I'm interested in hearing what brought about the leaving/getting kicked out, and how you reacclimated yourself to lipstick, haircuts, and pants (!!) again. :o)

  7. Terri,

    Sounded like a very er.. uhhh... intense brand of Pentecostalism. Not into vintage Victorian apparel huh? (Or would Puritan apparel be more apropos?)

    I know what you mean Terri. I saw that crap from the inside. Fortunately, I left it for a less-virulent form of Pentecostalism later. I'm loving the way your story is unfolding. Keep it up!

  8. Ooh, yeah, what Kirsten said about reacclimating yourself to pants and lipstick sounds good -- I hadn't gotten that far in my thinking about it yet, because I was stuck on trying to imagine you like one of the ladies in that picture with the big dresses and no makeup. Wow.

    It strikes me that many of our blogs are provoking conversations about the directions that Christianity can go and why we find it offensive or limiting or wrong in a deep, deep way. I wonder where all this conversation will eventually lead us in our thoughts and convictions from here?

    As a sidenote, kind of related to what I asked above, I had an oh-I-wish-it-could-be! moment last night. I was thinking about all these beautiful friends we've been making in this community and how scattered we are across the land. And I was thinking how great it would be to be involved in some great mission together, working together on something important, because we share so many convictions.

    Totally pie-in-the-sky, but who ever said dreaming was dangerous? Well, maybe somebody did.

    [Getting off-topic, I know! Must move back . . . ]

    I continue to believe questions are not anathema. God can handle them. It's not anything he hasn't already heard before, and they don't scare him anyway. I'm so glad we believe in a God who isn't scared and is big enough to handle all of it.

  9. Again, this is all sounding so familiar. Though not Christian, the commune and cult I grew up in had standards and rules for everything, appearance included. I have so many memories of feeling raw rage that I was not allowed to love beauty. It still hangs around sometimes, the way living that way changes a person.
    Such rules, they are founded in and from fear. Fear of ourselves, our desire, our sexuality, our humanity, our need, our god. And, as you already know, perfect love drives out fear.
    waiting in anticipation for the next installment.

  10. Sarah: It's good to be touched in those deep places and questions are not the enemy. I'm so glad that this has created an opportunity for you.

    Dave: you little perv. ;)

    and oh my goodness i am laughing so hard remembering some of those hairdos! i would be busting a gut if i wasn't feeling a little sad about those poor women. (for the record, i never put chop sticks in my hair!)

    Marcell: you totally win the miserable standards contest.

    Kirsten: LOL!!! I have the email evidence of your little freudian slip! too funny!

    I won't even try to explain how they got around all of that. too convoluted and weird.

    i'll be waiting for the post about YOU getting kicked out. and you're right...this is a very old story. but don't get too crazy on me: i still don't wear lipstick, but that's only because it's too much bother.

    nathan: i'm glad you got out quick...although like i said, you could have worn shorts without much flack. (but not lipstick)

    christianne: i'll never forget that transition...the first pair of jeans, getting my hair cut, trying out would have been a blast if i wasn't developing an ulcer over the loss of all my friends. maybe someday i'll post some old pictures. pretty hilarious.

    i honestly don't have any idea where all this will go. i never would have imagined that i would feel so connected to this weird little virtual community. kind of exciting. you never can tell what we might do together. dangerous bunch of questioners...

    and i think God LOVES questions. they are the stuff of authentic relationship.

    bella: you simply have to tell your story. (maybe you already have before i came on the scene.) i agree...fear twists us into trying to control and make mystery into dogma. it gets ugly in a hurry.

  11. Terri,
    Nathan has peeked my interest in your blog site. I read your comments. I also read the blog of your religious history. Quiet an adventure. You have truly found the humerous side of religion, giving the expression "beauty for ashes" an identity. I read some of your profile as well. I look forward to reading more of your thoughts.

  12. ha!! so you know what i mean. I copied that original comment, intending to paste it, but edit the correction. but then i posted the same damn thing again. gosh! my poor addled brain. little freudian slip, indeed. i'm still reeling with a mix of shock and laughter.

    the story of me getting kicked out still doesn't make much sense & still kind of surprises me, even thought it's four years gone now.

    and i totally feel you on the lipstick thing. a little chapstick is good with me!

  13. Kirsten, I wanna hear your story, too! I'm pulling up a chair and thinking, "I gotta hear THIS. What happened to my friend three years after she left college and three years before our worlds reconnected?"

    Bella's comment about not being allowed to love beauty hurt my heart for the sadness of it and the imagining of living such a way. I find it entirely beautiful that your screen name (is it, by chance, also your real name?) is Bella: beauty, in Italian and Spanish. (Right? My memory on the languages is a little fuzzy...)

    Terri, I was brought back down to sober with your word about grieving the loss of your friends. I can only imagine, my friend. What a hard, hard thing.

    PS: You could make some good moolah off Kirsten's freudian slip -- it could be a way to beef up that financial plan Nathan says you need to be about soon. (But tell me, really: are you gonna side with him on this little dispute we've got going here, or what?!) :)

  14. Just so you know and haven't forgot about me I've decided to copy all of your stories into a book and of course edit it so it sells to southern baptist then I'll have huckabee say it changed his life. I mean you gotta capitalize on these stories...

    I guess the only thing I would warn you about is to not crash the internet. People get mad when that happens I should know I helped invent it.


  15. I'm sorry were never meant to conform to such crazinesses. I'm so glad you listened to that sleepy little voice of reason.


  16. poet: i'm really glad to have you here. welcome, and thanks for the kind words.

    kirsten: i'm hearing some leftover sadness or something in that story. man, churches can really hurt people.

    and i'm still laughing about your little typo.

    christianne: yeah that was an incredibly painful time, but really valuable in a lot of ways.

    hmmmm...Kirsten's "mistake" WAS really juicy and funny and i'll bet everyone would pay a ton of money to hear about it...i'll have to keep that in my back pocket. but then again, i'll probably do something similar on her site, so maybe i'd better just keep it tucked away as an insurance policy.

    josh!!!! i miss you so much at work. it's just not the same without your velociraptor imitation.

    marcia & di: thanks...i'm glad too.

  17. oui, zanmi'm! fou anpil!

    kouman ou ye? ShaSha di ou tris. Mwen renmen you!

  18. Terri, I am wholly at your mercy with my little Freudian slip. Be it known to all that it takes a great deal to embarass me (I have a couple stories that just might make my audience wet themselves) & while I wouldn't deliberately put that little Freudian slip out there, I think it's kind of hilarious that I did & that everyone else is oblivious & thinking, "how bad could it be??". Oh, it's bad kids. Trust me on that one. I might be banned from blogging for all eternity! ;o)

    Christianne - I think it would be good for me to write of my own getting kicked out of church story since I've had some distance from it now & am now able to see it through a lens of grace, to love the people who were involved, trusting that their choices & actions were a result of their own brokenness. Lord, have mercy on us all.

  19. mesi...mwen te bezwen tande sa.
    kounye-a...mwen pi kontan...paske mwen pr'ale we Tess demen! :)

  20. I love the picture of Joey and Janelle...that's mafia lake isn't it! being and knowing beside still waters LUCKY!!

    Danny (cusp man) and his guitar...
    Dave pondering the meaning of life...
    Joby so radiant and knowing she is blessed beyond measure...
    Terri's gorgeous soul peering out behind a book...
    Did Marcia take ALL of those? You ROCK Marcia!

    The frumpy dress ladies, not so much. I'm kinda tempted to post the twirling skirts meet garden maiden and hopalong...but I'll refrain because I'm so amateur.

  21. jen: padiqua cherie. fe kek bagay amizman! a di "bonjou" pou mwen. bondye beni ou.

    di: it is mafia lake. so relaxing and beautiful. aren't they great photos? yeah, they're all marcia. and i love it when other people notice how sweet my little family is. thanks.

    and there you go again with the free association. you kill me! :)

  22. Wow, quite the conversation you've got going on here! I'm running behind on my comments everywhere... need more days in my hour. (I meant to say that)

    Those rules sound so, so familiar. (wonder why my stomach is starting to feel tight) Looking forward to reading the next installment, which is what I'm going to do now...

    (And I used to work for the man who wrote this little booklet about how The Beatles were part of the Marxist attempt to take over America. How we ever survive these experiences proves that grace and humor go hand in hand.)

  23. that would be great to get more days in your hour, except for the hours that suck. glad to find a fellow traveler who bumped into some weird stuff along the way. sorry about the tummy ache. and hey, how do you do a hyperlink in the comments section? that marxist beatles thing is great. i was always a little suspicious of those guys. :)

  24. They don't make it easy to create a hyperlink; you have to use HTML tags. Just keep a copy of this where you can see it and paste it when you want to make one. (It's the code in the first shaded box on the page I'm sending you to.)

  25. thanks tom! i had to stare at it drooling for a little while and wait for the smoke pouring out of my ears to clear, but i think i get it. let's test it here